Today started out casually enough; I got up late, stumbled out of bed, got coffee and did a little early holiday shopping (shipping is HORRIBLE this time of year). Little did I know that twelve hours later, I was going to make the best apple tart of my life.
It started when Jim and I drove out to Liberty Apple Orchard in Edwardsville, IL. Liberty is my favorite apple orchard in the area, partly because their apples are the best I’ve tasted and partly because everyone who works there is so warm and welcoming. It almost feels like you’re going to pick apples in your own backyard.
Today was the second to last day the orchard was open for the season, so we made it just in time. It was probably too cold to be apple picking- it was almost freezing temps, windy, and gray, but we really wanted apples so we did it anyway. We managed to find enough to fill two bags, and then we went and got hot chocolate on the way home to warm up.
I don’t know about you, but I always get anxiety after I pick a massive amount of fruit and bring it home. Even though I know that I can find things to make, I’m always overwhelmed with possibilities. So this time, I decided to keep it simple and make an apple tart.
Apple tarts are my favorite things to make with apples. The main work is making the crust, and once that’s done, you just put some peeled apples and sugar on top and call it a day. If you want, you can even use store-bought puff pastry for the shell. I decided to make my own tonight because I wanted to use spelt, which gives the crust a more nutty flavor.
The tart looked great when I took it out of the oven, and it smelled even better. Would it taste as good? I wondered. I let it cool for a few painstaking minutes, and then I transferred it to a cutting board and cut off a slice.
I am not exaggerating when I say this is the best thing I’ve ever baked. Yes, it helps to have fresh apples handpicked from a local apple orchard on top, but it goes beyond that. The crust was so flaky, light, buttery, and perfectly browned. It was crunchy around the edges with sugar. The apples, which have a healthy sprinkling of vanilla sugar on top, were soft and perfectly sweet. This was one of the first times I’ve thought to myself, “Did I really make this?” because it tasted like something I would get from a bakery in France. I know it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn…maybe I am. But I’m only doing it because this was so damn good.
ANYWAY. Before I keep going, I’ll leave you with a recipe. And here’s a song to get you started on your apple tart journey.
The Apple Tart of My Dreams
for the puff pastry:
340 g cold unsalted butter, cubed
140 g AP flour
145 g spelt flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
120 ml cold water
for the tart:
2 pounds (about 900 g) tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/8 inch thick
juice of half a lemon
2 Tbsp AP flour
6 Tbsp vanilla sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
for the vanilla sugar:
1 vanilla beans, seeds removed
6 Tbsp granulated sugar
First, make the spelt puff pastry. Use a stand mixer to mix the two flours and salt together. Then, mix in cubes of butter all at once on low and mix until they are completely covered in flour and form small pieces. Add the water all at once and mix for 15 seconds until the dough is evenly saturated. If it looks a little chaotic, don’t panic; it will all come together on the counter.
Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Fold the right third of the dough to the center, then fold the left third over the other two thirds of the dough on the right. It will look like a folder letter. Turn the dough 90 degrees, press it back into a rectangle, and repeat the folding and patting process two more times. After three turns, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for an hour. After it has rested, roll the dough into a rectangle that’s about 1/2 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Repeat the letter folds three times. After you’re done, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for another hour.
While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F with a rack in the center. Toss the sliced apples in a bowl with a little lemon juice to keep them from browning. Make the vanilla sugar by mixing the granulated sugar and seeds from one vanilla bean in a small bowl.
When the dough is done chilling, remove it from the fridge and roll it out into a 10 inch by 14 inch rectangle. Transfer it to a lined baking sheet and sprinkle the flour and 2 Tbsp of the vanilla sugar on top, leaving a one inch border around the edges. Arrange the apples on top so they’re slightly overlapping, then fold the edges of the dough over the apples, pressing at the corners to seal. Sprinkle the sugar and salt over the apples. Place the sheet with the tart in the freezer for 15 minutes to set.
Once it’s set, brush the crust with the egg and sprinkle on the turbinado sugar. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning once, until the apples are browned on the edges and the crust is golden brown. Let it cool slightly before cutting into it. Enjoy!