It’s the time of the year when my thoughts turn to cooking and baking, stocking the freezer, and trying new recipes. For the last couple of years, I’ve made a new-to-me dessert for a friend’s Thanksgiving gathering. Last year, I made Creme Brûlée Mexican Brownies. This year, I took what I hoped was the simpler route, and made French apple tarts according to the Barefoot Contessa recipe. Arrange sliced apples atop pastry, sprinkle with sugar and dot with butter, brush the finished tart with apricot glaze. So simple. Except…
…I changed things, because I always do. Even when it’s a recipe I’ve never made before, for people some of whom I’ve never met.
As recipes go, this tart is as straightforward as you can get, especially if, like me, you use store-bought puff pastry dough instead of homemade. But I took exception to the variety of apple called for—I’ve used Granny Smiths a couple of times, and found the slices turned rubbery and dry when baked. So I opted for McIntosh apples, which my mom always used, as did her mother. They do get a little soft when baked, but they’re a nice combo of sweet and tart.
I also balked at sprinkling a half-cup of sugar over each tart. I’m a fan of caramelization, but I heartily dislike desserts that are too sweet and couldn’t make myself shovel all that sugar atop the apples, especially when I would be adding a glaze after baking. So I kept the sprinklings down to a couple of tablespoons each. I also added cinnamon, because Apples. Come on.
It had been years since I used puff pastry, and the lack of experience came into play. I popped the first tart into the oven, and watched anxiously as the rim of the pastry and the apples browned, but the pastry between the rows of apples stayed pale. After I overbaked that tart in an effort to brown all the pastry, I searched online for photos of the tart that baking bloggers had posted, and found one that showed that the pastry on which the apples rested really did remain pale. I hate underbaked crust, and was concerned that some of the dough would remain essentially raw. But I had already popped the second tart in the oven and after 45 minutes, it was merrily browning away. So I pulled it out, glazed both, and hoped for the best.
Turns out I needn’t have worried. After dinner, I cut into the well-browned tart first, and found that it tasted just fine—soft apple flavor, and well-baked crust. The apple slices remained intact, and the tarts were not the least bit mushy. They were, in fact, a hit, and some folks appreciated that they weren’t overly sweet.
I will definitely make this tart again, though I may do a few things differently. I’m wondering whether I could sprinkle just a touch of sugar on the pastry and bake it for a few minutes prior to adding the apples in order to give it a little color. I would also like to add white or green raisins (presoaked in rum or juice so they don’t bake into little bullets).
Have you baked anything new recently?