Opinion

The French fruit tart

I was first inspired to make an apple tart when I perused my parent’s copy of Ina Garten’s Back to Basics cookbook. There I found a recipe for the alluring “French Apple Tart.” I don’t know if it was the buzzword “French” that drew me or the picture of the rectangular pastry covered geometrically with apple slices, since roasted in the oven atop a flaky pastry and glazed with shiny apricot jam. I’m only glad I paused my flipping through the pages. Preparing my mise en place with unsalted butter, flour, green apples, sugar, and other items, I took my first steps on a journey to pastry freedom.

After making this tart many, many times, I began to experiment with new toppings or new shapes. Perhaps I could use pears, plums or other stonefruits like peaches or apricots. What if I made individual tartlets instead of one large one?

This summer I was in a pinch and needed to make a quick dessert. At which point, I bolted for the produce section of the grocery store. Here I found plums I could use for the filling. They were small, had tart, green flesh and were marked, undescriptively, “Plums, prune.” Most importantly, they were on sale. Out came the familiar tart dough I learned from this recipe, a little nutmeg, sugar, and butter. I watched through the oven door as the dark purple from the plum skins ran with melted sugar and butter to stain and sweeten the sour plum flesh and the buttery crust. I served the pastry with cream, whipped and slightly sweetened with honey.

The recipe is for a tart made with apples. But do remember that the fruit and the simple pastry are the objects of its celebration. You have the power to change them as you wish!

For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 by 14 inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges. Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baler. Slice the apples crosswise in one fourth-inch thick slices. Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. Sprinkle with the fullone half cup of sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. Don’t worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine! When the tart’s done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados, rum or water and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the mixture. Loosen the tart with a spatula so it doesn’t stick to the paper. Allow to cool and serve at room temperature.

Don’t let her detailed and picky instructions scare you. I use my hands instead of a food processor to mix the dough. I am not militant about using unsalted butter. I use a knife and not a melon baler to core the apples. I don’t use a ruler when shaping my pastry. I usually eat it warm, before it has time to cool completely.

RECIPE:
Ina Garten’s French Apple Tart

For the Pastry:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold, unsalted butter, diced
½ cup ice water (or less)

For the Apples:
4 Granny Smith apples
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold, unsalted butter, small diced
½ cup apricot jelly (or preserves or jam)
2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water