Golden raisin toast apple tart, thanks to Janet and Dorie

There are some occasions when I buy an ingredient that I wouldn't normally keep on hand for day to day use.  Golden raisins are one of those.  I purchased them awhile back when I was preparing to make biscuits fondants amande et fruits épicés for my 1/14/15 post.  I used only a portion of the box and was eager to finish it off.  But what, pray tell, might I make?

It was thus that I turned to a book that Steve and I have owned for a number of years - "The Cheese Course" by Janet Fletcher.  While I don't pull it off the shelf very often it offers some great ideas for accompaniments to cheese, including breads, salads with light and simple vinaigrettes, fruits, nuts, honey, olives and more.

I recalled that it contained a recipe for golden raisin bread, so I decided to go for it.  The bread is meant to be toasted and served with Bellwether Farms' crescenza, described as a yeasty, creamy cheese, similar to Italian stracchino.  But I digress - on to the subject at hand.


Besides chomping at the bit to bake more bread, I've been wanting to make a not so run-of-the-mill tart - something with a Parisian twist.  I had my eye on an apple tart recipe in Dorie Greenspan's book "Paris Sweets" (one of my faves) that calls for toast points to be tucked in between apple slices before baking.  I was on my way to a new adventure.

First the bread.  Soak 2 cups of golden raisins in 2 cups warm water for an hour or so.  Drain them, reserving 320 ml (1 1/3 cups) of the raisin water (add additional water if you don't have quite enough).  I wanted a bit of je ne sais quoi, so I added the zest of an orange and pinches of nutmeg, allspice and coriander to the dry ingredients.

les ingredients

Weigh out 488 gm (3 3/4 cups) all purpose flour, holding 98 gm (3/4 cup) aside; whisk 390 gm (3 cups) flour with 8 gm (1.5 tsp) salt, 15 gm (1 TBSP) sugar, 8 gm (~ 2.5 tsp) instant yeast; stir in the tepid raisin water and 10 gm (2 tsp) soft butter.

When it becomes too stiff to stir, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead, adding in the remaining flour as you go.  Knead about 5 minutes until the dough is firm, smooth and elastic and shape it into a ball.

after the knead, ready for the first rise

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 1.5-2 hours.

after the rise

Pat the raisins dry and toss them in 3 tablespoons of flour.

Without punching the dough down turn it onto the work surface and pat it firmly into a 14" circle.  Top it with 1/3 of the raisins, pressing them gently into the dough.

Fold the sides of the dough toward the center (I folded it into thirds, just like with a laminated dough) and then roll into a cylinder.

the first cylinder

Again flatten the dough into a circle, add another 1/3 of the raisins, fold the sides into the center and roll again into a cylinder.  Cover and let rest for 15 minutes before you do the same thing a third time, finishing up the raisins and forming the final cylinder.

kinda rough and tumble I'd say
Now divide the dough in two and shape each half into a loaf about 12" long (mine came out shorter).

ready for the final rise

I will say these are not the most attractive loaves I've ever shaped.  The raisins made them all lumpy-bumpy, plus you have to keep the raisins tucked into the dough so they don't burn during baking.

Cover with a towel or lightly oiled plastic and let rise for an hour or so.  They look like some kind of funky subterranean creature!

after the rise, ready for the oven

Heat the oven to 400º, bake for 5 minutes, then lower the temp to 375º and continue baking about 30 minutes more.  They should be nicely golden brown and have that tell-tale hollow thump of doneness.

the end result

Once cooled, I sliced one for a taste test and was pleased with the hint of orange and spice, the plump raisins and the not too chewy texture.  I ultimately used about 1/2 loaf for the apple tart and froze the rest - lots of breakfast raisin toast coming up these next few weeks.  Yes!

So let's move on to the apple tart.  Dorie G's "Paris Sweets" recipe is an adaptation from Lenôtre and calls for the following components.

1.  Caramelized white bread (in my case golden raisin) toasts:  slice the bread, cut off the crusts, spread one side with a mixture of soft butter and light brown sugar (made by mixing 30 gm/2 TBSP butter with 30 gm/2 packed TBSP brown sugar) . . . .

then pop under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, flip over and broil another 2 minutes or so.  Pay close attention so they don't burn (if necessary, just scrape off any black edges with a sharp knife).

2.  A blind baked crust (I used my 240 mm / 9.5" tart ring and my favorite pâte d'amande dough) . . . .

waiting for weights and ready to blind bake

3.  Peeled, cored, cut-in-eighths Golden Delicious apples (4 of 'em) sautéed in butter, sugar and vanilla pulp . . .

4.  A custard mixture made by whisking together one large egg, 3 large yolks, 70 gm (1/3 cup) sugar and the pulp from 1/2 vanilla bean until somewhat thickened and pale.

Then boil 300 gm (1 1/4 cups) heavy cream (stovetop or microwave - you decide) and pour the hot cream over the egg mixture bit by bit while whisking constantly.  Try not to be too vigorous - you don't want a lot of bubbles (tapping the container on the counter will help dissipate any bubbles that may have formed).

On to the assembly.  Heat the oven to 325º.  Place the blind baked tart shell on its parchment lined pan onto a second sheet pan (this provides some insulation and more gentle heat).  Slice the toasts.

everything at the ready  

This was definitely the clunky part.  The idea is to line the apple slices up in the tart shell, then tuck the toast triangles (or in my case, more like rounds) decoratively between the apples slices.  Easier said than done.

I had a few gaps into which I tucked smaller pieces of apple, and I did my best with the toast placement.  Pretty rustic.

Dorie calls for sprinkling a couple tablespoons each of walnut pieces and raisins over it all, but, since I was using raisin bread, I left them out.

Carefully pour about 1/3 of the custard over the apples, letting it find its way into the crevices.  Bake for 10 minutes to settle the custard a bit.  Then pour additional custard over until it reaches the tart rim - not too much or it will spill over (I didn't use all of mine).

the custard poured in

Bake for another 40-45 minutes until the custard is set.

interesting look, eh?

one more view

I served this for dessert that same evening, garnished with a dollop of chantilly and some nut crumble.  Despite my skepticism going in, this turned out to be one delicious tart!  Dick, Dor, Carl and Steve all thought so too.  And I still have golden raisin bread in the freezer - cool!

And next time?  I'm already envisioning thinner apple slices and a rectangular tart pan to allow for more attractive rows of apples and toast.  Yes, I would do this again.

Tarte Tatin

Before I jump into the topic at hand I'd like to share a photo of this gorgeous maple tree that we've been viewing from our window every day these past few weeks.  It's a beauty!

Making a classic tarte tatin has been on my to-do list for some time now.  So when a recent NYT article with the tatin recipe from Gotham Bar and Grill was published online, I felt it was time.

Over the years I've tried my hand at a couple of variations, one being a few summers ago when I made petite versions in mini muffin pans with plums and peaches. They were messy but deeeelicious. More recently, a second attempt involving a mango version from Christophe Felder's book Les Folles Tartes, turned out OK, but something about the flavor of the mangoes put me off.

As is my wont, when I'm planning to make a classic of anything, I compare a number of recipes to see how different chefs approach the process.

In addition to Felder's I reviewed recipes from Dorie Greenspan, Michel Roux, Philippe Conticini, Sherry Yard, Francois Payard and the above mentioned Gotham B&G. Each had a slightly different take on the process.

The recommended apples ran the gamut from Golden Delicious, Gala, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Cox and Honeycrisp, typically requiring 6-8 apples for a 9-10" tart. I opted for a mixture of Braeburn and Granny Smith, partly because I had never baked with Braeburns and thought it a good test.  I like G. Smith because they hold their shape, and their tartness goes so well with buttery pastry and caramel.

Most recipes call for pâte feuilletée (puff pastry), although a couple used pâte brisée.  

Sherry Yard likes to use croissant dough as her tart base.  Go figure.  The quantity of dough is generally about 8 ounces.  This is another one of those times when it's great to have some puff pastry already made and in your freezer!

Typically sugar and butter (amounts vary from recipe to recipe) are used to create a caramel. Some variations involve making the caramel, pouring it into a moule à manqué (cake pan) and temporarily setting it aside. The prepped apples are then placed over the cooled caramel and baked in a 350-375 oven for perhaps 30 minutes to soften and caramelize them. They are then topped with a round of pastry and placed back in the oven to continue the caramelization and bake the pastry until golden brown.

Alternatively some recipes have you bake the pastry round separately and then place it onto the baked apples. The whole thing is then turned out onto a platter before serving.

After a while all these variables become a bit overwhelming. I decided to go the classic route, starting on the stove top and then moving into the oven. I followed the guidelines in Dorie Greenspan's "Paris Sweets" recipe, although I did not make the vanilla tea version as she does.

First I rolled out my puff pastry to about 3 mm thick, and using a cake circle as a guide, cut a round slightly larger than my pan.  I pricked it with a fork, covered it and held it in the fridge until later. Interestingly, both Michel Roux and Gotham B&G have you put the raw pastry over the apples while still on the stovetop before even going into the oven. To each his own.

Then I took my new 10" Lodge cast iron pan (can't believe it took me so long to buy one!), coated it in 113 gm (4 oz) soft butter and sprinkled 150 gm of sugar over it. I used a mixture of my own vanilla sugar and granulated sugar.

I had peeled, cored and quartered a total of 6 apples . . . .

which I layered over the butter/sugar:

The pan is placed over medium heat on the stovetop until a light to medium caramel develops. The time for that will vary, and one must keep on eye on things and adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning.

Here is where one must use judgement about the extent of the caramelization.  I thought this was looking nicely ready so I retrieved my pastry from the fridge and placed it over the apples:

Recommended baking temperatures ran from 350-375ºF and baking times varied from 30-50 minutes with the ultimate goal being a nicely browned pastry.  I baked mine at 375 for about 35 minutes and thought it had achieved just that very look:

I gave it just a minute or two to let any bubbling subside, then, placing a flat platter over the pan, handily flipped the tart out with nary a hitch (I was a bit worried as to how I would fare with that step). Imagine my disappointment when I saw before me a much paler version than what I had anticipated! Plus the Braeburn apples, while actually still holding some shape, were on the verge of mushy applesauce!!

Even the edge of the pastry looked underdone, and I dreaded biting into a doughy mouthful (the worst).

But have no fear.  Steve arrived home soon after the tart came out of the oven and said "why don't you put it back in?" So I slipped the whole thing back onto a parchment lined sheet pan, apple side up and baked it for a good 30 minutes more.  The fix was in . . .

Check out the caramelized pastry now!

Lesson learned.  Next time I would let the caramel on the stove top go a tad further and would definitely extend the baking time to a decent 50-60 minutes. Since one can't see what's going on with the apples underneath the pastry, it takes practice to understand the timing of it all. Other than that I found the whole thing really very straight forward and wondered why I hadn't made this long ago.

In preparation for this tarte tatin I had made a classic vanilla bean crème anglaise ice cream base the day before which had spent the night chilling in the fridge. I processed it in my good old Cuisinart canister model ice cream maker and held it in the freezer until serving.

Nothing fancy . . .

but delicious and well worth it!

Yes, I would definitely make this again.