Monday, 21 October 2013

Apple tart - French rustic meets British bite

Tart made with Wilma's Bramley apples
This is apple time, the apples falling late this year, helped by the recent deluge of rain and ferocious gusts of wind. Since they are so late, the birds and bugs have had first dibs, and a lot of the apples bear scars and scabs that mean they won't keep. Time for some serious baking - apple recipes follow.

The Bramley apple is queen in the British autumn kitchen. With a thick waxy skin, and a characteristic shape, the crisp super sharp flesh gives a flavour that is unbeatable. This apple lends to all kinds of cooking, with the addition of judicious sweetening and spice. It is worth letting it take the lead, by pairing it with a butter laden pastry.

The pastry of this tart is buttery, crunchy, like shortbread and flavoured by an unexpected addition – alcohol. The alcohol cooks off, so eating it won’t get you drunk, other than on pleasure. I usually use tightly packed plums or apricots as the filling - but here I've used Bramley apples.

Betty’s original recipe used Calvados, which underscored the apple flavour, but any strong alcohol will do. I’ve tried using rum, brandy and vodka, although I prefer something with flavour. 

Since I've run out of Calvados I used rum in this tart
This rich pastry seems to resist getting a really soggy base from the abundant fruit juices. Cook it shortly before eating if you like the base of the tart crisp, or prepare it ahead and enjoy the slightly soaked-in flavour. Of course, it’s delicious either way.

for two 8"/20cm tarts

For the pastry:
500g plain flour
300g unsalted butter
100g castor sugar
2 egg yolks
1 coffee cup of strong alcohol

For the filling - per tart
two tins of apricots
1kg/2lb+ of fresh fruit, stoned or peeled and cored 
You can use tightly packed plums or apricots as the filling - but here I have used Bramley apples.


  • cream butter and sugar together
  • add egg yolk, beat in until combined
  • slowly add alcohol, beating all the time - if it happens to start to separate add a spoonful of flour
  • add in sifted flour a little at a time
  • if the mixture becomes slightly dry add water to combine into a ball
  • allow mixture to sit for at least an hour - best in a plastic bag in the fridge
  • roll out half the pastry and line well buttered tart tin - if it cracks patch with scraps
  • crimp the edge with your fingers and trim of surplus - I like a nice fat edge
  • pack fruit in tightly - fresh fruit is great, but you can also use tinned apricots
  • sprinkle liberally with demerera sugar or failing that granulated sugar 
  • cook for 45m at gas mark 4/350 F/180 C
  • eat hot or cold 
  • great with slightly sweetened creme fraiche, cream or ice cream

Don't stress too much about how the fruit is arranged, just make sure there is plenty of it, packed tight.

Try using the pastry recipe to make wonderful shortbread.

Roll it into a fat sausage, wrap and chill for an hour, then cut slices with a very sharp knife.
lay out on lined baking sheet and prick with fork
cook for 15-20m gas mark 4/350 F/180 C
Just bundle it up, wrap it and chill, pinching off pieces of the mixture and flatten into discs with a fork.

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