I'm teaching a class this evening based on the desserts in my book, The Greyston Bakery Cookbook and so this week I spent some time with the four recipes we'll be making, just for practice (it's been a while.) If you live under the illusion that baking is too scientific for your culinary skill set — nonsense — then this Free-Form Apple Tart is what you should make to prove to yourself that you can bake an elegant dessert.
Afraid of crust shrinkage? No worries, this tart is free-form. Scared you'll muck up the filling? All you need is a few apples and a sharp knife. This is a perfect dessert for a dinner party, or even a decadent weekend breakfast.
Free-Form Apple Tart
Makes one 6" x 12" tart, 6 to 8 servings
1 recipe Tart Pastry (see below), wrapped in plastic and chilled at least one hour
2-3 large apples (about 1 pound) such as Rome Beauty, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Pippin, Gala, Cortland, or Winesap
2-4 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on sweetness of apples
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Apricot Glaze (see below)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
On a large wooden cutting board (preferable to a stationary work space), roll out the pastry dough to a rough 9" x 15" rectangle. (If the dough splits or becomes too soft to work with, transfer the board with the dough to the refrigerator and chill for 5 to 10 minutes.) Carefully transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Form a shallow lip by folding over the edges on each side of the dough rectangle. (For a less rustic look, trim the sides and create an even lip with the dough scraps. If desired, create a decorative edge by pressing all around with the tines of a fork or by crimping the dough between your index finger and thumb to create a fluted edge.) The final crust should measure roughly 6" x 12".
Pierce the bottom of the dough with a fork and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Peel, core, and quarter the apples, then slice them into 1/8" or smaller wedges (a mandoline works well here). In a medium bowl, gently toss the apple slices with the sugar and almond extract. Neatly arrange the slices, overlapping as you go, in two lengthwise rows in the tart shell. Sprinkle or tuck the almonds among the apples and dot the top of the tart with the butter.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and apples have some color. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool to a warm temperature.
In a small pan, warm the Apricot Glaze then brush it over the top of the warm tart. Serve warm.
Serving Suggestion: Serve thin slices topped with Spiked Whipped Cream (see page 27) made with Calvados or brandy or with a drizzle of Caramel Sauce (see page 25).
Makes one 9-inch tart shell, plus a small amount leftover
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces and chilled
1-3 tablespoons ice water (or as needed)
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt to blend thoroughly. Using a pastry blender, metal pastry scraper, two knives, or your fingers, cut or rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. (Work quickly to keep the butter cold.)
Using a fork, stir in the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, adding just enough for the dough to hold together without becoming wet. Gather the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Wrap the disk of dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
With food processor:
In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and process, using short pulses, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
With the machine running, add the water through the feed tube, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough begins to form into a ball. Remove the dough from the food processor and flatten into a disk. Wrap the disk of dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Form the shell:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. With a rolling pin on a lightly floured board, roll the dough to form a rough circle about 1/4" thick. Carefully transfer the dough to a 9" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough lightly but snugly into the edges of the pan, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges of the pan. Roll the rolling pin over the top of pan to trim the excess dough from the pan rim. Pierce the bottom of the dough several times with the tines of a fork. Chill for at least 30 minutes before baking.
The tart shell is now ready to bake, partially-bake, or be frozen for up to 1 month for future use. If freezing, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, taking care to press the plastic against the surface of the dough.
For a partially-baked shell:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line the chilled shell with foil or parchment and fill the shell with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice.
Bake the shell about 12 minutes, or until the pastry is set and golden. Carefully remove the foil or parchment and weights and continue to bake the shell another 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. If the edges start to brown too much, cover them with strips of foil or piecrust shields (see page 9). Cool on a rack.
For a fully-baked shell:
Position a rack in center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line the chilled shell with foil or parchment and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice.
Bake the shell about 12 minutes, or until the pastry is set and golden. Carefully remove the foil or parchment and weights and continue to bake the shell another 5 minutes, or until it is golden all over. If the edges of the shell start to brown too much, cover them with strips of foil or piecrust shields (see page 9). Cool on a rack.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons water or orange-flavored liqueur such as Cointreau or Triple Sec
In a small saucepan, bring the preserves and water (or liqueur) to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until thickened. If the preserves contain large chunks of fruit, transfer the glaze to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Strain the glaze through a mesh sieve into a small bowl, pressing the glaze with the back of a large spoon or rubber spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Use while still warm.
(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)