I wanted to make an apple tart for Martha's dinner, and I stood at one particular stand at the market, eating all the different apple samples, trying to imagine what would taste best layered on a pie crust, brushed with a cinnamon-infused syrup. Really, any of them would have worked, but the slice of Mutsu apple I tried had a bright, citrusy flavor that I really liked. Two pounds of Mutsus went into my shopping bag and home I went.
As you know, pie crust is not my strong suit. But I love David Tanis and his beautiful cookbook A Platter of Figs so much I figured his apple tart recipe wouldn't steer me wrong. And I was right. His dough, based on a friend's Amish pie dough recipe, came together quickly and easily. After it chilled in the fridge for a few hours, I rolled the crust out onto a cookie sheet, then layered thin, overlapping slices of apples on top. I think peeling and cutting all those apples was the hardest part of this recipe.
One neat trick: to give this fairly plain dessert some extra sweetness and flavor, the recipe calls for you to simmer the apple cores in equal parts sugar and water, making an apple syrup that you brush on top of the warm tart. After tasting the syrup, I thought that it needed a little extra something so I tossed in a few cloves and half a cinnamon stick and let it come to a boil a little longer. The spices gave the syrup, and the tart, just enough of a flavor boost and (added bonus!) made the house smell so good.
I served the tart with vanilla ice cream, but cinnamon ice cream would be amazing, or some homemade caramel sauce, if that's your kind of thing. Either way, it's a rustic, homey taste of fall.
An ever-so-slightly tweaked recipe by David Tanis. His recipe has you make the dough by hand, which I did, but you can also use a food processor.
(Serves 10 to 12 people)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling
2 sticks (1/2 pound) cold butter, in thin slices
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten, plus enough ice water to make 1/2 cup
6 to 7 medium crisp apples, about 2 lbs. (David recommends 3 lbs. but I had a lot of apples left over)
1 cup sugar for the glaze, plus extra for sprinkling on the apples
1 cup water
1/2 cinnamon stick
Put the flour, butter, and salt in a big bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it looks mealy, with some large flecks of butter remaining. Pour the ice-egg water mixture into the bowl and quickly knead the dough for only a minute or two, until it comes together. It will be soft, a little sticky, and though gathered together, a little rough looking.
Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and pat it into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight. Divide the pastry in half (there will be enough for two tarts, you can freeze one half for later). Use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry into a rectangle, about 11 by 16 inches, using a 15 1/2 inch by 10 1/2 inch baking sheet as a template. (Mine was 13 by 9 1/2).
Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and let it relax, then trim the edges to fit the pan with a little going slightly up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you peel the apples and cut them as thinly as possible. It's okay if they turn brown. Reserve the apple cores.
To make the glaze: combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan with the cores and spices, if using. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then simmer to a thick syrup. Strain and reserve. (Or use honey or a good apricot jam, thinned, for a glaze.)
By rolling the first quarter of the dough onto a rolling pin, carefully lift the dough from the surface and transfer it to the baking sheet. Let it relax, then trim the edges to fit the pan with a little going up slightly on the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Arrange the apple slices in 4 or 5 rows, overlapping them like cards in Solitare. At this point the tart can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. It's okay if the apples darken.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the apples and bake until they are beautifully browned and the pastry is crisp, about 45 minutes. Cool on a rack. Just before serving, reheat the glaze. Paint the apples with the warmed glaze. Slice into small rectangles and serve warm.