See that tart up there? I made that, and in making it, I feel as though I invented the wheel or the iPad or something. Now for everyone out there who is a born baker this is no great accomplishment. Among all the food writers and bakers and chefs I know, making a dessert is no problem. I've seen perfect cakes, towers of delicately iced cookies, immaculately crusted pies, meringues that look like the Himalyas, cunningly iced cupcakes and all manner of other delights. I have generally been in awe of such things because for 99% of the year I really do not bake. When the holidays come around, I crank out a pumpkin or mince pie, (the repertoire ends there) a few cookies and maybe, just maybe the occasional cheese cake.
It's not like I don't have the baking equipment. I do. I have Madelaine pans, cookie sheets and angel food cake pans, spring form molds and pie and cake pans galore. It's just that I never use them. I love to buy them though. I don't know what sort of sickness this is. Maybe it's an offshoot of the people who buy shoes and hide them in the back of the closet and never wear them, (I've done that too) but this is much worse. Baking equipment makes me feel all cozy and homey and long winter's nappey. Plus as long as I have the equipment and I can look at it, it's not like I'm actually eating any of the cakes and pies etc and therefore my butt gets no bigger. It's some sort of vicarious thrill that even I don't understand. I just keep acquiring the stuff and never do anything with it. Well, all that ended the other day.
Thursday we remembered that we had booked a dinner date with Alan's cousin Joanie who was coming up from Berkeley with a friend. Usually that kind of news sends me into the planning stages for a multi-course Indian company feast, but with the mass of work we're involved in right now, cooking a big complicated Indian dinner was a definite no no. Not that I couldn't put something simple together, but I wanted the evening to be special. I decided to prepare a simple classical Americana home-style harvest dinner.
I made an arugula salad and sprinkled it with pomegranate arils and toasted chopped pistachios. I roasted a chicken, I fixed creamed spinach, roasted baby new potatoes in parchment and made Brussels sprouts with bacon. I whipped up some buttermilk biscuits and opened a jar of my pear chutney. I thought I was all set. Then I remembered, or rather forgot about dessert. That's when the trouble started. Give me an Indian meal and I can plan a perfect dessert. Give me an American style meal... not so much. I get totally lost and usually end up making ice cream or strawberry shortcake... but mostly ice cream. With an American menu, unless it's Thanksgiving (pie) or Christmas, (my mom brings something) I'm lost.
Now when I mentioned my mom brings something for Christmas I don't mean she actually makes anything. If I am not a baker, my mom is really, really and truly not a baker. We like to tease that she invented lava cake eons ago. Only it wasn't chocolate, the icing was puke green (hey it was St . Patricks Day) and the stuff that came out when it was cut was not a filling, it was the cake batter itself because she never ever pre-heated (pre-heating is for sissies) her oven which brought about some pretty interesting results. We stopped her baking quite a few years ago and she's now found a wonderful bakery which takes care of all the family's cake and pastry needs. So when it comes to planning a dessert, I wasn't picking up the phone to mom to ask for advice. Instead, I turned to Twitter.
I put out a call for help and my Twitter friends answered. I got great suggestions from @janis_tester and @WickedRandom which led me attempt an apple tart. After all, among all the rest of the baking junk I have around the house, I am the proud owner of two virgin tart pans, a 9" and an 11". It was time to put them to use. I searched around the internet and came up with a recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine November 2006 edition. All praise to Lord Google.
It was an Apple Tart with Caramel Sauce, or as the recipe put it, Caramel Apples for adults! Wheee. Sounds racy! Apples and caramel. Thrills spills and challenges, especially the caramel part. A year or so ago I was complaining to my friend Paula Wolfert that I was unable to properly caramelize sugar. She told me I was using the wrong sort of vessel and gave me an old French copper pot to use.
I was about to put it to the test and make my first hopeIdon'tscrewup caramel.
Apple Caramel Tart
Here's what to do:
1 and 1/2 cups of tight packed dark brown sugar
6 Tbs of unsalted butter
1 and 1/2 cups of whipping cream
Bring all of these ingredients to a boil over a medium high heat. Whisk vigorously untill all the sugar has dissolved.
Boil the mixture until the caramel thickens enough to coat a spoon thickly. Whisk it ofetn. This should take about 10 minutes or so.
This actually turned out to be the scariest ten minutes of the whole process, because this is normally where I usually wind up with a spoon attached to a pot of caramel cement. But not this time!
Lovely dark thick caramel. Perfect.
According to the recipe, the caramel sauce can be made 5 days ahead. Just cover it, refrigerate it and reheat it, whisking it over a low heat until it's liquid again.
Now on the the really ugly part of this entire enterprise.
1 and 1/4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cups of powdered sugar
1/4 tsp of kosher salt
1 stick of chilled unsalted butter diced
2 egg yolks
Put the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and mix together.
Add in the butter
Mix until a coarse meal forms
Add in the egg yolks
Note here: I added 1 extra egg yolk for a total count of 3 yolks. The crust is extremely dry as the recipe is written and can be difficult to work with. I was almost ready to add a bit of water, but didn't, though attempting this again I probably will.
Pulse the dough until moist clumps form. Then roll it into a ball, and flatten it into a disc shape.
The scariest part of this whole process was rolling this very stiff dough out, but roll it I did and placed in in a 9" tart pan.
There are no photos of the rolling process as I started to sweat like a pig and screamed at Alan to get out of the kitchen with the camera. No one should have to see this.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 13" and place it in the tart pan . Cut off the overhang so it's even with the pan, then pinch the sides of the dough up to 1/4 of an inch above the side of the pan.
Needless to say, the dough went into the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
6 large Macintosh or Golden Delicious apples
1 Tbs flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Peel, core and quarter the apples.
Toss the sliced apples in the sugar, cinnamon and cardamom mixture until they're well coated.
Arrange the apple pieces cut side down in a circle around the outside edge of the pan.
As you can see I did not do this. I am bad at following this sort of direction. The slices should have been all pointing toward the center of the tart. Ikea needs to make tart directions or something, as I couldn't visualize what they were talking about and kept calling for an allen wrench. Maybe it was all those years building Heathkit models as a kid. Anyway, I got those apples in the tart.
Bake the tart in the oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour or so until the apples have gotten tender and the crust has browned.
Take it out of the oven and brush the apples with some of the warm caramel sauce.
Let the tart cool to room temperature and unmold it from the tart pan.
They loved it, and I mean really and truly Sally Field time loved it! I'm definitely making this again and it has emboldened me to take out some of that other baking equipment that I've got squirreled away and start experimenting. But first I'm whipping up some tasty gluten free Diwali sweets, plus a crunchy delicious vegan savory. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori