Monday, November 12, 2012

French Apple Tartlets with a Brown Butter Crust

In less than a week we begin our annual pilgrimage across three states to the home of friends Andy and Kelley, part of our fabulous Navy family, for Thanksgiving.  It's a bit of a drive, but well worth the time, long hours in a confined space with three boys, and shouts of "Are we there yet?" from the backseat to continue our nearly 10 year tradition.  This will be perhaps the last Thanksgiving we can spend together for a quite a while as next year the Navy's wishes are for us to move to some potentially-far-off destination.  So I plan to make the absolute most of every minute we have with our dear friends.

One thing I will NOT be doing is scrambling for recipes.  I'm ready with an arsenal of old and new recipes to grace our plates this year.  Part of our tradition is to divide up the cooking responsibilities based on what Kelley and I are best at and what we (collectively) absolutely cannot live without.  Over the years what's on our Thanksgiving table has changed a bit depending on the mood of the chefs, but a few items are non-negotiable- my mom's roasted sweet potatoes, Kelley's dad's stuffing, and my adaptation of Martha Stewart's chocolate pumpkin tart.  My main duty is pies, which I am particularly excited about because there aren't a whole lot of opportunities to make pies the rest of the rest of the year and I actually enjoy pie making.  I've already had a request to bring back the pear tart with almond custard from last year, so that's made it to the dessert menu, and this year I'm thinking about just one more.  It's a beautiful and deceptively simply little slice of heaven.  The french apple tart.

I have been dying to make one of these tarts since the day my mom gifted me with my copy of Baking With Julia and I saw the gorgeous and mouth watering closeup of the tart filled with apple compote and topped with a blossom of paper thin apple slices.  To.  Die.  For.  Oh, and did I mention the crust?  I took the pie in a direction of my own and went with a simple, press-in-the-pan, brown butter cookie crust.  I'd hate to say that I improved on a classic french tart (gosh, that would be awfully presumptive!), but I certainly like to think that my version is pretty darn awesome.  And the dinner guests I served these to nodded in agreement with their mouth full in between sighs of pleasure.

So this year, the dessert table at our Thanksgiving feast will be graced with a larger version of these pretty little tarts.  But for every day entertaining, I like the small personal version.  So pretty on a dainty dessert plate with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Either way, I plan on enjoying a slice over good conversation, laughs and love with the dearest of friends.  And I will be ever thankful that we found our way into each others' lives.
French Apple Tartlets with a Brown Butter Crust
Makes 6 4 inch tartlets or 1 9 inch tart.  Recipe adapted from Baking with Julia (recipe by Leslie Mackie) and Baking Bites.  
For the printable, click here.

The few simple steps to making this tart are easy to accomplish and come together to form a very beautiful and delicious dessert.  If you don't have tartlet pans, you can make this tart in one 9 inch tart pan (with a removable bottom) just as easily.  Choose what apples you like, but I suggest a softer apple for making the compote- perhaps a fuji- and a sturdier one for the top layer.  Granny Smith would work well there.  The crust is made on the stovetop very much like pate a choux (cream puff) dough and is very forgiving.  Don't be afraid to try it!

For the crust:
6 tbs butter
1 tbs light flavored oil (such as canola)
3 tbs water
1 tbs sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbs all purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, oil, water and sugar.  Cook over medium heat until the mixture simmers and the butter begins to take on a light brown color and a nutty aroma, 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the flour all at once, and with a wooden spoon stir vigorously until the flour is well incorporated.  Remove the pot from the heat and let the dough cool until you can comfortably handle it.

Divide the dough into 6 equal sized balls.  Press each one into a 4 inch tartlet pan (with a removable bottom), covering the bottom and sides evenly.  Prick each tartlet shell several times with a fork.  Space the tartlet pans evenly on a baking sheet and place in the oven.  Bake for approximately 8 minutes, or until the crust is evenly browned and set in the center.  If using a 9 inch pan, simply press the dough into the pan, prick the bottom of the crust and bake for 13-15 minutes.  Remove the tart crusts from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet.

For the compote and to finish the tartlets:
7 medium apples
3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tbs
1 tbs all purpose flour
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh, fluffy breadcrumbs (I used a slice of good sandwich bread, shredded by hand)
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbs butter, melted

Peel and coarsely chop 5 of the apples.  Place these apples, along with the 3/4 cup sugar, flour, cinnamon, breadcrumbs and lemon juice in a medium saucepan.  Over medium low heat, cook the mixture, stirring often.  The compote is ready when the apples are softened, have given up their juices and the mixture resembles a loose apple sauce, 15-20 minutes.  You don't want the apples to go completely to mush, some texture is good here.  With a heavy spoon or potato masher, lightly mash the apple compote.  Let the compote cool.

Peel and slice the remaining apples very thinly (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick).

When the compote is cool, spoon it evenly into the 6 prepared and pre-baked tart shells.  Lay the sliced apples over the compote in a fan design.  Brush the top of the apples with the melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tsp sugar.  Bake, on a baking sheet, for about 20 minutes.  The edges of the apples will brown and should be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.  If the apples are not cooked at that point, cover the baking sheet loosely with aluminum foil and cook for up to 5 minutes more.

Remove the tartlets from the oven.  They are served best slightly warm and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or drizzle of caramel sauce.  Refrigerate any uneaten tart (as if that would be possible).

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