We are long in apples right now. Sauce apples, eating apples, cider apples, baking apples, apples my grandmother loved, new-fangled apples (most too sweet for my taste). I stick to my favorites as I find them—I picked up some Jonathans, Cortlands, and Macintosh, last week—and then try local varieties that I haven’t seen before. Last year it was Arkansas Blacks. This year it’s the Wolf River. It looks very much like our Rhode Island Greening (hard to find, now), but not as versatile. Still, I was glad to find it.
The abundance of apples to be had for a very good price got me thinking about how much I absolutely love to cook and bake with this fruit. In fact—and I thought about this long and hard before putting down the words—if I had to choose apples over my other fruit obsession, sour cherries, I think I would have to go with the apples. This feels a little like choosing which of your children is your favorite. While everyone says that’s not possible, there is some recent research saying that, actually, you can—that people do have favorites among their children. So of my beloved fruits, I am a bit more partial to the apple.
This only makes sense, if we consider that, for me, the apple is something analogous to the first-born. I learned to make applesauce when I was very young; it was, if not the first, among the very first of my lessons in cooking at my grandmother’s side. The first pie I ever made was apple (the second, as I recall, was lemon meringue). I made apple butter for years and years before I ever made cherry preserves. Of course, availability has a lot to do with it, what with apples being grown everywhere in great quantities and variety, and sour cherries both few and far between. This is another reason for choosing them—if one had to choose.
Fortunately, I don’t. But while it is apple season and not cherry season, I will certainly put them to good use. And in honor of thinking back to baking in my younger and much younger days, I offer this quintessentially French apple tart. I made it all the time back in the 70s and 80s, when I cooked mostly French food. I haven’t made it in years, but it’s due for a comeback.
Country French Applesauce Tart
This homey tart combines an applesauce base with sliced apples and an apple glaze. Use an all-butter pastry for this. The directions are general; this is more of a method than a recipe. Serves 6.
2 cups a-p flour
8 oz (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
½ tea salt
2-3 T ice water
In the food processor, pulse the flour and salt briefly. Place the butter into the bowl, cut into 8 pieces, and turn them over to coat; drop in the egg. Pulse until crumbly. With the machine running, add the water, a little at a time, until the dough comes together. Form into a disc and chill.
1 ½ lb apples, cut in quarters
3 T butter
½ cup white wine
½ cup sugar
½ tea cinnamon
1 tea grated lemon rind
Put everything into a pan and bring to a boil; reduce somewhat and cook until the apples are soft. Strain, without pressing, the liquid, and reserve. Then put the apple mixture through a food mill. Taste the sauce and add a little more cinnamon if you want; this tart should not be as heavily spiced as an American apple pie, though.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll the dough out to 11” or so to fit a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom. You will have extra dough, with which you can make little jelly turnovers or a mini version of the tart if you want.
Cook the reserved liquid from the applesauce down until it forms a light, soft, syrupy jelly; add a little sugar if needed. It should be fluid enough to use as a glaze. Thin it with hot water if you overdo.
Put about 2 cups of the applesauce into a small bowl. Beat the egg and stir it into the applesauce. Fill the tart shell about 2/3 full with the applesauce (perhaps 1 ½ cups or so; you will have leftover). Peel and core the apples, and slice them thinly. Arrange the apples in concentric circles, slightly overlapping each slice, working from the outside in and reversing direction of the slices with each circle. Form a little circle of apple and place it the center. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the edges of the apples begin to brown. Remove and let cool for at least 20 minutes; glaze with the apple jelly, slightly warmed. Remove the tart from the pan.