You can be certain the first phase of spring has arrived in New England when the day starts out sunny and pleasant and by the time you’re ready for that afternoon cuppa joe…it’s snowing. Yes, you heard right. I know…you’re jealous. I’ll definitely be needing something sweet to go with that coffee. You’re nodding your head, yes? Glad you agree.
I happen to have some heavy cream I need to use up and a few last lovely Vermont Cortland apples begging to be eaten before they’ve lost their tart crispness…now this is my kind of problem. The perfect answer to my quandary is an old and dear friend, a tarte Alsacienne. Buttery, flaky crust cradling carmelised and flambéed apples, and just the right amount of creamy custard. To my mind, a perfect combination.
Let’s get started, shall we?
First for the crust:
Pate Briseé – makes enough for two 8 or 9 inch tarts
- 250 grams/2 cups cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 135 grams/10 tbsps cold butter, cubed
- 65 milliliters/1/4 cup ice water
After measuring, sift your dry ingredients together. Cut in the cold butter until you’ve got lentil-sized bits, then add the ice water and blend in. Don’t overwork the dough. Divide in two, wrap and place one in the freezer for a future something yummy (always prepared!) and the other in the fridge to rest for a half hour. Tip: you can make this ahead, chilling for several days well wrapped or thaw frozen Pate Briseé overnight in the fridge.
Roll out the rested dough, 1/8” thick, into a circle 2 inches larger in diameter than your tart pan.
Transfer the dough to your (un-greased) tart pan and gently work into the corners and sides, taking care not to stretch the dough as you work and thoroughly mending any little cracks or holes. Chill until firm, about 10 -15 minutes (or overnight if you want to do ahead).
Line the chilled shell with parchment paper, fill with pie weights or dry beans and blind bake until lightly browned. Once no raw spots remain, take out of the oven and remove the parchment and the pie weights or beans, setting the shell aside to cool.
While your shell is blind baking, get started on the apples:
- 3 tart, firm apples (granny smith or golden delicious work well)
- 25 grams/2 tbsps granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon armagnac (calvados, cognac or brandy are fine substitutes) pre-measured into a small ramekin or cup
Tip: you can substitute a good apple cider for the liquor if you want to do an alcohol-free tart.
Peel, core, and halve the apples and cut each half into five wedges.
Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the apple wedges moving them around here and there until they begin to brown.
Sprinkle the sugar over the apples, moving things around and adjusting the heat so everything is browning evenly. Allow the sugar to caramelize, but not too dark. You will gain colour quickly in the next step.
Are you ready to flambé? Done it before? No problem? If so, then jump right in and flambé the apples with the armagnac and cook for a minute or two to burn off the alcohol and to reduce the liquid. You’re looking for some nice colour and carmelisation, some dark brown tips and edges, but not burnt. Remove the apples from the pan and set aside to cool.
If you haven’t flambé-d before, please read my tips following before completing the step above. Be safe…I don’t want to hear any horrid stories involving fire and whatnot. Okay???
Tips for Safe Flambé-ing: 1) Let others in the vicinity know that you are about to have flames in the kitchen. “Fire in the hole!” usually works well. I’ve taken to saying it even if no one’s in the kitchen but me. It makes me feel rather invincible and cool. 2) Have a metal lid handy just in case you need to snuff any flames that get out of hand quickly. 3) Always move the pan off the flame to pour in the alcohol, returning to light it (or ignite with a stick lighter). Be ready to pull it back off if you have a low stove hood and high flames. 4) No matter how efficient it seems at the time, do not pour your booze directly from the bottle into the hot pan and resist the urge to start slogging the liquor in the pan. For one, you don’t want to set the whole bloody kitchen on fire now do you? I’m serious – this is FIRE we’re talking about here. Also, and probably the worse sin, you don’t want the liquor to overpower the other flavours of the tart. Restraint is a virtue. I don’t care what you learned in your college years.
Now, get yourself a nice cup of java to celebrate your bravery in the face of raw danger and open flames.
While things are cooling, it’s a good time to mix up the custard:
Tip: custard can be made up to 1 day ahead and held covered in the fridge.
- 1 egg
- 25 grams/2 tbsps granulated sugar
- 50 milliliters/1/2 cup milk
- 50 milliliters/1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (use the good stuff)
Whisk together the egg, sugar, milk, cream, and vanilla extract. Strain through a fine strainer.
Arrange the cooled apples in the bottom of the cooled tart shell. Put your pan in the oven first, then pour the custard over the apples. Bake the tart at 250°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the custard is set.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Will keep for 1 day wrapped in the fridge.
It’s great for breakfast too!
© Veronica Wirth and The Buttery Fig, 2011.