A couple of autumn tarts

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Apples! Pears! Berries! What better way to celebrate autumn, eh?

On the prowl for a couple of Sunday desserts, as well as a way to use some of the local Michigan pears and apples I had on hand, tarts were definitely on my mind. Natch! This project involved two versions of tart, one apple/pear/blackberry with classic brown sugar crumble topping and one apple/pear/raspberry with crunchy almond topping. Ooooohhh how delicious.

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I’ve been a fan of Bosc pears for some years now, and, on the apple side of things, this season I’ve taken quite a shine to Jonagolds too.

I typically poach my pears soon after purchase as a way to avoid the ripening wait as well as to hold them in the fridge for use when needed. But after reviewing some of my numerous pastry books I opted for the slice/dice/sauté in a little butter and sugar approach. Works like a charm!

For a couple of full sized tarts I peeled, halved, cored and thinly sliced about 4 pounds of apples. That would normally be a decent quantity for one tart, but, since I was mixing in pears and berries, it worked very nicely for two.

Then on medium heat melt 2 ounces/56 g unsalted butter in a sauté pan or Dutch oven large enough to hold all of the apples, then stir in the slices until coated. Add 100 g dark brown sugar, a large pinch of salt, the zest of one lemon and a large squeeze (a tablespoon or so) of lemon juice, increase heat to medium high and stir about a minute.

Now here’s where I took Elisabeth Prueitt’s advice from her “Tartine all Day” book - cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and let the apples cook for about 10 minutes until softening and juice-releasing has happened. Then scoop the apple slices out with a slotted spoon (I placed them in a large strainer over a bowl to allow dripping then transferred them to a clean bowl) and cook down the juices for a few minutes until very thick - apple caramel! Mix the thickened juices in with the apples and you’re good to go. You can add a little cinnamon and nutmeg here if you’d like - I kept mine au naturel. Set aside to cool until you’re ready to fill your tart shell.

For the pears, again using about 4 pounds, I peeled, halved, cored and diced them into 1/2 inch cubes then followed a similar sauté approach in butter and sugar. For these, simply cook them over medium high heat until they start to soften and become lightly caramelized (maybe 5-8 minutes) then set them aside to cool until ready to fill the tarts. No juice reduction here.

I used two of my favorite tart doughs - pâte brisée for the blackberry version and pâte sucrée for the raspberry - blind baking them before filling. Once baked I brushed the bottom with egg white and popped ‘em back in the oven for a couple of minutes to “dry”. That provides a seal to the dough and reduces the chance for a soggy crust.

Pear apple blackberry waiting for assembly

Pear apple blackberry waiting for assembly

I mounded the apple/pear mix in first then tucked my blackberries into the various nooks and crannies. These were plump frozen berries that I broke up into pieces for more efficient cranny-ing.

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The brown sugar crumble is equal weights flour, brown sugar (you can use light or dark, whichever you prefer) and diced cold butter sanded into the dry ingredients. I usually make a bunch and store it in a zip-top bag in the freezer to use at a moment’s notice.

Loaded with crumble!

Loaded with crumble!

Since the crust is already baked and the fruit “cooked”, the primary task here is to brown the crumble and get the fruit to juicy-up. Bake at 350ºF for 20-25 minutes until the crumble is golden and some juicy bubbling is visible.

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The approach to the raspberry version is pretty much the same. Fill the blind baked crust with the pear/apple/raspberry mix.

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But this time the topping is made with 2 large egg whites, 100 g/1 cup confectioner’s sugar and 125 g/1.25 cups sliced almonds all mixed together and spread over the fruit.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

This one also bakes at 350ºF for about 25-30 minutes until the nuts are browned and have taken on a certain luster and there’s some fruit juiciness visible around the edges.

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Talk about a treat! Whether it’s crunchy toasty almonds or a more classic crumble that melts in your mouth, both of these tarts delivered with the lovely fall flavor of pears, apples and berries. And a side of vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt either!

Now don’t hesitate to make your own version of a delicious autumn tart.

Happy baking!

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World egg day!

Maple pot de crème

Maple pot de crème

How many of you knew that October 12 was World Egg Day? I wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been for Kim, the activities director at Heron Manor/Woods just down the street from our home.

It all started in 1996 when the International Egg Commission set the second Friday in October as World Egg Day to increase awareness of the benefits of eggs and how important they are in human nutrition. Who knew?

Needless to say, eggs are utilized in many different ways in the baking and pastry world. For a morning event this past Friday, October 12, I decided to really go for it in the egg department.

Never one to turn down pot de crème, I thought others would enjoy a maple version of this unctuous delight, topped with maple mascarpone cream, a sprinkle of walnut praline crumbs and a petite maple walnut shortbread cookie on the side. So lovely and so delicious.

The base is essentially a crème brulée type custard made with cream, yolks and sugar (maple syrup here). I used 3 ounce ramekins which I find to be a perfect portion for a just right taste.

To yield 14 portions, whisk together 9 yolks, 3/4 cup REAL maple syrup (don’t you even dare use “pancake syrup“!), 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract; heat 3 cups heavy cream to barely simmering and temper it into the egg/maple syrup mixture. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a pouring measuring cup then fill the ramekins to 1/4” below the rim.

Bake in a water bath at 325ºF. I use a clear pyrex glass baking dish, set the ramekins in, pour hot water into the corner of the dish and fill to about half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover loosely with foil and bake about 30-35 minutes, checking it periodically - you want the custard just set with a hint of a jiggle in the center. Once out of the oven, lift them out of the water bath and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

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Then refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with whatever you’d like! If not being consumed the same day, I cover them with plastic wrap to enjoy over the next few days.

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Now for a tart!

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As always, having some version of a tart in the mix is right up my alley and thus a ricotta custard raspberry tartlette was born - buttery blind baked short crust filled with a few raspberry pieces and an easy to make ricotta filling.

For the filling whisk together 2 cups ricotta/3 eggs/one tablespoon cornstarch/3/4 cup sugar/zest of a lemon/ 1 teaspoon vanilla. Et voilà, très simple!

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Bake at 350ºF until the filling is set and a bit puffy, about 20-25 minutes.

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To give these babies some panache I made a lightly gelled raspberry coulis and pooled it on the top.

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Then a nice string-of-pearls crème Chantilly rim and a fresh raspberry to top it off. Smooth and berry delicious !

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The World Egg Day table also held browned-butter pistachio crumb cakes (egg whites) . . . .

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. . . . and apple pecan brioche (we all know that has eggs!).

Note: more on revisiting brioche recipes later - it’s an ongoing task.

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An enjoyable egg day it was!! Can’t wait until next year.

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.