Some may dream of apple pie come fall, but I dream of apple tarts – specifically, right now, this Alsatian apple tart, a true classic of French pastry. It can be found in the finest of Parisian pâtisseries, but it’s so simple to make that you can also find it in French home kitchens – and yours, as well.
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When you look up French tart aux pommes, you’ll find many variations based on different regions of France and personal preference, but nearly all French apple tarts are distinguished by the concentric circles of apple slices on top, like a gorgeous golden fall bloom. Sometimes the apple slices sit on a bed of puréed apples, sometimes they float in a cushion of frangipane.
This Alsatian apple tart from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, immerses the apples in a creamy vanilla custard that bakes into just-barely firmness. Just eggs, cream, sugar, and some vanilla that coalesces into pure magic. The custard enhances the flavor of the apples, so it reminds me almost of the apple-y intenseness of apple pie, but French style. If you want to add a bit more of autumn to it, you can add some cinnamon and nutmeg to the filling as well.
We were lucky enough to go up to Sonoma a few weeks earlier and get some Gravenstein apples – these are local to the area and a fall favorite of mine. They work beautifully in this tart, but any slightly firmer apple works well – some more commonly available recommendations are Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, and Winesap. You want the apples to be not too soft so they will hold up to baking, and I like them to have a bit of tartness to offset the sweetness of the custard, but whichever you pick be sure they are flavorful – this tart is meant to showcase them, after all.
The crust for the Alsatian apple tart is another French classic: pâte sablée. This dough is crisp and crumbly at once, and relies on delicate handling, so you can press it into the tart pan without having to roll it out. Make sure you don’t spread the dough too thin, as the crust can crack while it’s baking. The amount of dough in this recipe is a bit more than you need, so you can save some of the dough and press it over any cracks that do develop, as you’ll finish baking it when you bake the filled tart. I also used the leftover dough to cut out the decorations for the top of the tart.
This tart is best fresh from the oven and just cooled to room temperature, with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top. Because of all the liquid in the filling, the crust will go soft quickly, so it’s generally recommended to eat it within a day or two. However, I’ve kept it in the refrigerator for a couple more days and re-heated pieces in the oven, and it’s still perfectly delicious to me; the crust does become softer but the flavors all meld together into a sort of soft bar-like cookie. It’s unlikely this tart will last longer than a day or two anyway! Every time I make it I end up wanting to eat the whole thing at once. Make this and enjoy the coming of autumn.
- 1½ cups (188 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ cup (60 g) confectioners’ sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4½ ounces) (128 g) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large egg, separated
- 1 pound (about 3-4 medium) sweet firm apples
- ¾ cup (178 g) heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons (75 g) sugar
- 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup (80 g) apple jelly or apricot jam for glazing
- confectioner's sugar for dusting
- Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.
- Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles pea-size crumbs.
- Stir the egg yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition until the dough forms clumps and curds. Do not let the dough form into a solid ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
- Butter a 9" round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, and lightly press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don’t be too heavy-handed – you want to press the crust in so that the pieces stick to each other, but don’t want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
- Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and press it, buttered side down, tightly against the crust.
- Place tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.
- Carefully remove the foil and press down the crust gently if it has puffed up.
- Brush the egg white over the bottom of the tart shell. Let cool on wire rack.
- Preheat oven 375 degrees F. Place the tart shell in its pan on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (this is in case any filling leaks out from the tart.
- Peel and core the apples. Cut into ¼" thick slices. Arrange them in concentric circles in the tart shell from outside to inside.
- Whisk the cream, sugar, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract together in a large measuring cup.
- Pour the mixture over the apples, filling the tart crust to just below the rim.
- Bake the tart for about 50 to 55 minutes, until the custard is set. It may still jiggle slightly but if the apples are soft and can be pierced with a knife, and if the knife inserted into the custard comes out clean, it's done. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.
- Warm the apple jelly or apricot jam in the microwave or in a small saucepan, until it is runny. Using a pastry brush, gently brush it over the top of the tart.
- Dust with confectioner's sugar as desired.
- Serve immediately, or within the next couple days as the crust will become soft quickly.
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