As we wrap up edits on The Kitchn's upcoming cookbook, I've been thinking a lot about my first book, The Greyston Bakery Cookbook, published in 2007. I learned many tough lessons that first go-around about how to make a book, but one thing I still return to and use is the recipes. There are many I make regularly when it comes time to get dessert on the table. This Free-Form Apple Tart is one of those recipes that will prove to you what rubbish it is to believe that baking is too scientific for your culinary skill set. Nonsense! I'll even tell you how to make it semi-homemade.
If you'd rather not make homemade tart dough, replace it with puff pastry, found in the freezer section of the grocery store, or pre-made pie crust, also in the freezer or in the deli section. (Confession: I used the store-bought stuff for the tart in these photos.)
Here's another tip for cutting down on the work: don't peel the apples. They add texture and color anyway. And mama always says, that's where the vitamins are.
Free-Form Apple Tart
For the crust (or substitute 1 square store-bought pie dough or puff pastry, thawed in the fridge overnight):
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)
For the filling:
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
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
For the glaze:
1/4 cup preserves (apricot for a yellow/orange glaze, or raspberry for a pink glaze)
1 tablespoon water or orange-flavored liqueur such as Cointreau or Triple Sec
To prepare the tart dough, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl until blended 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.
→ Alternatively, mix the crust in a 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.
When ready to make the tart, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat.
Flour a large wooden cutting board or pastry slab. Roll the dough into 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 the crust to the lined baking sheet.
Form a shallow lip around the crust by folding over the edges on each side of the dough rectangle. 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". Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
While the crust is chilling, prepare the filling. Peel (optional), 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.
Remove the tart crust from the refrigerator. Neatly arrange the slices, overlapping as you go, in two or three lengthwise rows over the bottom of the crust. Dot the top with the cubed butter.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, removing the tart halfway through and sprinkling the sliced almonds across the top. The tart is done when 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 slightly.
While the tart is baking, prepare the glaze. 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, or if it has cooled, warm it in a small pan over low heat.
When the tart is finished baking, remove it from the oven and brush the warm glaze over the top. Slice and serve immediately.