Sunday, October 17, 2010


I just got back from my old stomping ground - New York City. As always it was an amazing trip. In some ways it was like coming home, even though it felt like I never left. I hung out with friends, ate in some of my favorite restaurants, and explored just how much the city had changed in one short year. The Big Apple is one of those cities that is constantly evolving, yet somehow it manages to stay constant. Maybe not the same, but constant. There are always those things you can count on, and maybe take for granted, but it gives you a sense of comfort and familiarity amidst all the chaos. Faces change, businesses come and go, new buildings go up and down but the city's essence, it's energy, drive, and soul - those things never waiver, enticing us back time and again.

One Saturday afternoon I did something new. Some friends and I drove an hour outside of the city to go apple picking at the Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm in Yorktown Heights. It was a crisp but sunny autumn day, perfect for meandering through an apple orchard munching on fresh-picked apples. There was a sumptuous selection of Golden and Red Delicious, Jonagold, Crispin, Empire, and Winesap. Believe me, nothing tastes better than an apple you hand picked yourself from a tree. After we had our half bushel of apples, we stopped in Tricia's Treats Bake Shop and oohed and awed over all the delectable baked goods before purchasing our own raspberry and apple pie to take home. It was a satisfyingly yummy day.

Over the next week I baked two apple tarts with the fresh apples we'd picked from the farm. I used a simple recipe from smitten kitchen, a classic apple tart from Alice Waters which was a 20 year-old recipe she nipped from Jacques Pepin during his days at Chez Panisse. You only need the minimum of ingredients - flour, sugar, butter, and apples. You can't get purer than that. The results were mouth watering, flaky and not too sweet. In a word - perfect. One of the great things about this recipe is that you don't need a bunch of fancy equipment or baking utensils. For my pate brisee crust, instead of an electric mixer I used two knives to "cut" in the butter. Instead of a tart pan, I went free form galette-style for a more "rustic" crust. It may have lacked the perfection of a bakery made tart, but it more than made up for it with its "home-made" deliciousness.

Alice Waters's Apple Tart
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tbsp chilled water

2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
5 tbsp sugar

1/2 cup sugar

MIX flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.

DRIBBLE in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball.

Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.

PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)

OVERLAP apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.

BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples. (I don't like overly sweet desserts so I only use about 3 tablespoons of sugar total.)

BAKE in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

MAKE glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.

REMOVE tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.

BRUSH glaze over tart, slice, and serve.

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