Tuesday, February 15, 2011

French Apple Tarte by Nicholas

My very talented nephew, Nicholas Flowers, posted this lovely creation on Facebook yesterday and I immediately asked him if he would do a guest post. What a work of art!

Photograph by Nicholas Flowers

Nicholas just graduated, summa cum laude, from the School of Hospitality at Boston University, which if pastry making was part of the final grade it's easy to see why. Actually it's a rigorous curriculum of hospitality specific courses taught by a full time Ph.D. faculty, combined with English, mathematics, foreign language, history, and other liberal arts classes in the College of Arts and Sciences at BU. The program looks to be delivering some of the up and coming talent in the industry.

Nicholas' interest in food started when he was very young. At four years old he had a rule about restaurants; they had to have white tablecloths and serve pesto, or he wasn't much interested in eating there. I recall being with him in NYC during the depths of winter walking down Madison Avenue searching for a place that met his criteria. We settled in at Paola's, which thankfully was able to rustle up some pesto in the middle of February. They also had folded napkins that Nicholas was completely enthralled with, and Paola gave him one to take home. He may still have it.

Nicholas and I have cooked many meals together over the years, and I've watched him sail right past me in the skills and talent department. At 21 years of age I didn't know a sliver of what he has already mastered. His innate sense and understanding of how to combine foods, his presentation skills, and his composure and control under pressure are all remarkable.  Who's to say whether his career path was preordained, but it is rewarding to foster a child's interests and see what becomes of it. Of course with my own love of food, I was thrilled to have my little partner in crime!

We recently went to Paris together, so we continue to share our passion for food whenever we can. I'm so proud of Nicholas, and so happy that another generation is experiencing the joy that comes from preparing fresh, delicious, homemade food. Perhaps Paris was the inspiration for this beautiful tarte. Thank you, Nicholas, for sharing your talent.

Nicholas' French Apple Tarte
(Adapted from Ina Garten's French Apple Tarte recipe)

2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup coldest tap water
There are two ways to make this pastry, by hand or in a food processor. I don't have a food processor, so I made mine by hand, but I will explain both ways of making it.

If making by hand, add the 2 cups flour, salt, and sugar to a large mixing bowl and blend together with your hand or a pastry cutter, if you have one. Dice the cold butter into approximately 1/4 inch cubes and add to the flour mixture. If you have a pastry cutter begin cutting into the dough, blending the butter and flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of large peas. If you don't have a pastry cutter, run your hands under cold water to chill, dry completely, and then use your hands to break apart the butter and mix it into the flour. This takes a little longer, but it works perfectly well (that is the method I used). Once the butter has been sufficiently blended, add 1/4 cup of the water, blend quickly together until evenly incorporated, add the rest of the water, and blend again. When you are adding the water, be sure to lightly knead the dough rather than squeeze it so as to prevent overworking the dough or breaking up the butter too much. (An overworked dough will result in a tough pastry). Lightly work the dough into a ball form.

If making in a food processor, blend the 2 cups flour, salt, and sugar. Dice the butter into 1/2 inch cubes, add to the food processor, and pulse until the bits of butter are the size of peas. With the motor running pour in the cold water, and turn off the machine as soon as the dough begins to form a ball.

After either of the above processes, move the dough to a floured work surface, sprinkle with a little flour, and form the dough into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a floured work surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle that is 10x14 inches, using a ruler to measure. Cut the dough to this size and disgard the extra dough (you can reform it to a new disk, re-chill, top with butter and sugar, and bake for a simple cook's dessert). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough on the baking sheet. Chill in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

4 Granny Smith Apples
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

Peel the apples and slice in halve from the stem to the bottom. Use a melon baller or spoon to remove the core with the seeds, and slice small wedges on the top and bottom to remove the stems. Toss the apples with the lemon juice in a bowl to prevent them from browning while you slice them (a little browning is fine). Slice the apples across in 1/8 inch slices, and keep the sliced halves together (this will make it easier to form the tart). Layer overlapping slices of apple down the middle of the tart, and continue on either side to cover the pastry. Fill in any awkward spots however any extra slices fit best. You will be able to use all the apples. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar and salt so they are evenly covered (it seems like a lot of sugar, but you need to use all of it for the tart to properly carmelize) and dot with the butter.

Bake the tart 35-45 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are browned and the edges of the apples are caramelized (will be golden brown). After about 20 minutes of the baking process, turn the tart around so it bakes evenly. When you do this, if you notice that any particular section of pastry is puffing up significantly, prick it with a knife.

Photograph by Nicholas Flowers

The juices and sugar will burn in the pan, but the tart must be golden brown before it is cooked. Remove the tart from the oven, let cool for 1 minute, and run a spatula around the edges of the tart to make sure the melted sugar does not stick to the parchment.

For the topping:
1/3 cup Apricot jelly (sometimes called "fruit spread")
2 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy), or water

In a small pan, melt the jelly with the Calvados until it is warm and smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush the jelly topping onto the tart, covering it evenly. When it is cool enough to handle transfer the tart to a serving platter (you can use a clean baking sheet if you don't have a large enough platter) and serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Photograph by Nicholas Flowers

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