Friday was my first day off from work since Martin Luther King Day. I had been looking forward to it for weeks, and I spent it the best way I know how: making something exciting and new. Every minute of a free weekday feels like a stolen one, especially when most other people have to work.
In my tart lesson last week, we learned to make these classic French apple tarts. Once you have the crust, it’s extremely simple; there’s nothing in but apples, sugar, and apricot jam (this doesn’t stop the Bowery Whole Foods from charging more than $20 for this exact tart). It turns out beautifully and really impresses a crowd. I served it on Friday with crème fraîche, and I served the leftovers the following day with fresh whipped cream.
Use any recipe for pie crust, or buy a frozen one. The crust we learned is a pâte sucrée, which is regular pâte brisée with the addition of sugar and an egg, rolled out very thin (so thin that I had enough left over to make a second, smaller apple tart!). The subtle differences between the sweet crust and the regular crust disappear under the sweet flavor of the apples, so use whatever you have.
You’ll need four good apples. I used a mix from the Greenmarket; some remained firm while others got very soft. Peel, core, and dice two of them, and cook them in a heavy saucepan over medium heat with a bit of water and sugar (about 1/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the apples are and how sweet you’d like the tart to be) under a parchment-paper lid with a hole cut in the center, or a regular lid, tilted to let out steam. The apples should let out their moisture and cook down into a chunky compote. Add water or sugar as needed—they will burn if they get too dry; I cooked my apples for about thirty minutes. When you decide that the compote is ready (remember that it will cook for another hour in the oven, so don’t stress over it), chill it over an ice bath (or in the fridge if you have time).
In the meantime, peel and core the other two apples, rubbing them with lemon to prevent browning. Slice the apples in half, and then slice the halves very thinly, doing your best to keep them together, which makes the next step easier.
Fill the raw tart shell about 2/3 full with the compote, and arrange the apple slices in two decorative layers over it. The slices should completely cover the compote, and they will shrink in the oven. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 425ºF for 10 minutes, and then at 350ºF for close to an hour. The apples will brown and be soft, and the pastry will be golden brown. (If you’re using a tart ring, remove it for the last ten minutes of cooking to brown the edges nicely). Cool on a rack.
The glaze is the last step. Mix a bit of the best apricot jam you can find with some water or, better yet, a tablespoon of Calvados or another brandy, and carefully brush a thin layer over the apple slices.
I used this wonderful jam from Beth’s Farm Kitchen that I found on the west side of the Greenmarket on Friday. These women had dozens of flavors, most open for sampling, all selling for $7 per jar. I’ve been eating this one with a spoon. It has large pieces of delicious apricots floating around in it. I can’t wait to go back next week for the rhubarb!