I’m not much of a baker. It’s not that I can’t bake; it’s more that I have to be in the right frame of mind. Baking always seems to require all these steps – sifting, careful measuring, wet ingredients in one bowl and dry ingredients in another, waiting for the pastry to bake, then waiting for it to cool in order to do the next step. Basically my problem is patience.
So, for me, this apple tart is the definition of a perfect dessert. Simple. Just a few ingredients (only 5!). And delicious.
This time of year begs for a dessert that is fresh and light – what with all the risotto and and creamy squash soup eating we’ve been doing. This French apple tart uses fresh apples and puff pastry, leaving you feeling satisfied that you’ve had an amazing, sweet dessert, without feeling like you’ve over-indulged. In fact, my husband thinks it’s a wonderful next-morning breakfast. (As one who’s never said no to a good pastry with coffee, I’d have to agree.)
I used frozen puff pastry, making this dessert substantially less fuss and less time-consuming than if you made your own pastry. I would imagine that making your own would be even tastier, but I really had no interest in doing so. (The original recipe that I followed did include a recipe for pastry, but you had to chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour. See the first paragraph if you’re not sure why that would be a problem for me…).
I have made this dessert several times now, and it’s always been a hit. But the very first time I made it, it qualified for ranking on my list of culinary disasters. Ina Garten is quickly becoming my go-to cooking instructor. I’ve learned so much about cooking in the past couple of months, simply by working my way through one of her cookbooks. However. On this one, she (or her editors) left out a major point of instruction: this tart requires baking on a RIMMED pan. Unless you enjoy setting fires in your oven, then wiping up mounds of baking soda (from your frantic fire-putting-out) the next day. I did figure out how to use my oven’s self-cleaning feature. So there’s that. Seriously. You need to use a rimmed baking pan. Your tart will absolutely have sugary, buttery, juicy apple run-off. Your oven will absolutely catch on fire if you use an unrimmed baking sheet.
Actually, there were a couple of things that confused me a little about this particular recipe. It calls for a lot more butter and sugar to be put on the apples than I would have thought necessary. I honestly just couldn’t figure out where to put it all on either of the first two times I made it, and I thought the tart ended up being perfectly sweet without the additional sugar and butter. The recipe also calls for a significant amount (1/2 cup) of apricot jelly. I used a good portion of this the first time I made it, and it seemed like the apricot flavor overwhelmed the apples. We liked it better the second time, with just enough jelly to make the apples glossy and add a hint of sweetness.
My last tip: really pile on the apples. My first attempt looked just fine pre-baking, but those apples really shrink up, so the tart ended up being a little sparse with the apples. Do your best to get all four of those apples onto the tart. You won’t regret it.
Although this tart is definitely my go-to dessert this fall, it’s gotten me into the mood for some other autumn treats. What’s your favorite thing to bake in the fall?
French Apple Tart
(Adapted from Ina Garten’s french apple tart in Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions
4 apples (We’ve used a wide variety and they’ve all been tasty, so use what you have/like!)
1/3 cup sugar
2-3 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/4 cup apricot jelly or strained apricot jam or preserves
1 Tablespoon rum or water
Begin thawing your puff pastry, or, if you’ve planned ahead and already thawed it, keep it cool in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line your rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Peel the apples and slice them into about a 1/4 inch thick slices. I went not-so-fancy and sliced the apples regularly, but you could slice them through the stem and then core the apple to make more beautiful looking half-moon shapes. (I also saw something online that gave instructions on how to make your tart look like a rose. By all means, if that is your thing, make your tart nice and fancy!) If you’re slicing your apples ahead of time, place them in a bowl and give them a light toss with a couple teaspoons of lemon juice. Then cover the apples and keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to make your tart.
Place your defrosted puff pastry on the lined baking sheet. Prick the pastry with fork to keep it from rising too much as you bake it. Working from the center, overlap the apples tightly in diagonal rows. Fill in the empty spaces on the tart with additional apple slices. Sprinkle your tart with the sugar. Dice the cold butter, then top the apples with the butter.
Bake for 45-55 minutes, rotating your pan once halfway through the baking time. The apple juices, combined with the sugar and butter will run off and burn on the pan. But because you are smarter than me, you will be using a rimmed baking sheet, and it will not be a problem at all.
When the tart is done, let it cool slightly. In the meantime, heat your apricot jam, then strain it though a fine mesh strainer. (I skipped this step the first time, and it’s so much better tasting if you take the time to strain it!) Stir in the rum or water (we couldn’t taste the difference, to be honest). Gently, brush the apples with the apricot mixture, just until all the apples and the pastry are covered. Allow the tart to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. (It’s quite nice with vanilla or salted caramel ice cream, or just a bit of whipped cream!)