Monday, November 15, 2010

Brandied Apple & Currant Crumb Tart

I noticed I hadn't posted a Thanksgiving dessert yet this month...a serious omission. At the Thanksgiving meals of my childhood, dessert meant only pie. Recently I have taken to squeezing in the occasional tart. For a few years, I prepared our family's traditional mincemeat as a tart instead of a pie. This is more in keeping with the way I had seen mincemeat served while in England and the mincemeat lovers in my family did not object. Since my family is seriously grounded in their traditions, I'll take this as an indication that even traditionalists who are looking for a new recipe for apple pie this year would enjoy making and serving my Brandied Apple & Currant Crumb Tart for Thanksgiving.

A few years ago when my friend Nancy invited me to her home for Thanksgiving, I made this tart for dessert. It seemed to me that it was very well-received. I liked it so much I wrote down the recipe so I could make it again...and possibly teach it. When I was putting together an Autumn Desserts class a couple of years ago, it was one of the first desserts I thought of.  I was reminded of the tart last week during a day spent cooking with Nancy.  She had asked me to help with a large event she was working on.  We were preparing—among other things—some beautiful little apple streusel tartlets that she had developed. 

The apple filling that I use in the tart that I make is adapted from a recipe in Simply French by Patricia Wells. It is a bit unusual in that the apples are sautéed over high heat before they are put in the tart shell. The high heat encourages the apples to caramelize

and also causes the juices given off by the apples to evaporate (it is important to choose a pan large enough to hold the apples in a snug single layer in order to accomplish both of these things). The resulting filling has a wonderful caramelized apple flavor. And since there isn't an abundance of liquid, a thickener—which can mute the apple flavor—isn't required. The clear apple flavor of the tart filling is accentuated by the addition of a generous amount of Calvados-soaked currants. I love the flavors in this tart...there is something particularly holiday-festive about it.

Because all of the components of the tart—crust, filling and streusel—can be made ahead, it makes a perfect holiday dessert for the cook. The tart itself could probably be made the day before, but once all of the components are made, assembling and baking the tart is very fast and easy. Pies and tarts really do taste best when served the same day they are baked.

The most difficult thing about making the tart—and it's only difficult if you aren't familiar with the technique—is making the clarified butter to sauté the apples. Besides butterfat, butter contains milk solids, whey and water. Whole butter is not used for high heat cooking because the milk solids burn almost immediately when they come into contact with high heat. In order to be able to use butter for sautéing you must get rid of everything but the butterfat. To do this, place the butter in a saucepan—something with a small diameter is best. Melt it over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, remove it from the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface.

At this point, you can ladle the clear butterfat off of the whey remaining in the bottom of the pan. Or—and this is a bit unorthodox, but it works well for me for small amounts of butter—you can return the butter to medium or medium-low heat. The water will percolate off as the butter continues to heat—you will hear it popping and snapping. When the popping stops, immediately spoon or pour the butterfat off into another container—if you allow the butterfat to continue to sit on the heat, you will get some unwanted browning (possibly burning) of the whey and any remaining milk solids. A stick of butter will produce about 6 tablespoons of clarified butter. For those who are interested in a clear presentation of the classic method for clarifying butter, it is done very well (with great pictures) on David Lebovitz's Blog.

As you look at the pictures in my post today, it will be obvious that I didn't make a 9-inch round tart (as described in the recipe). I made two 4-inch by 13 1/2-inch rectangular tarts. One and one half times the filling and streusel recipes given below will make two rectangular tarts. One recipe of the crust is just enough for two of these rectangular tarts (I mention in a note below the recipe that the crust recipe is more than enough for a nine inch round tart). I really like the look of the tart in its rectangular form. It is a bit unusual, but more importantly, it is much more conducive to creating small portions. And since almost everyone at the Thanksgiving feast usually requests "a sliver of both" when presented with a choice of pies, being able to cut nice looking small portions is a good thing.

Brandied Apple & Currant Crumb Tart

2/3 cup dried currants
2 T. Calvados (or Brandy or cider)
2 to 2 ½ lb. Golden Delicious apples (5 or 6 large), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T. clarified butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 9-inch sweet tart dough shell, unbaked (recipe below)
1 recipe streusel crumb topping (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest setting. In a small bowl, toss the currants with the Calvados, set aside.

In a sauté pan large enough to hold the apples in a snug single layer, heat the clarified butter over high heat. Add the apples and sauté, tossing frequently, until tender and golden brown—about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over; toss and cook briefly until the apples are glazed. Add the currants and Calvados and toss again (most of the unabsorbed Calvados will boil off immediately). Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. The apples should be moist, but not soupy.

Place the chilled tart shell on a baking sheet. Scrape the fruit into the tart shell, spreading evenly, and top with the streusel—the fruit should be fully covered.

 Bake until the streusel is golden brown and the sides of the tart shell are golden (push up on the bottom of the tart to check this)—about 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool an hour or two before serving. Dredge with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Streusel Crumb Topping:
2/3 c. flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
4 T. cold unsalted butter

Combine flour, sugars, and spices. Add the butter. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture appears sandy & is homogeneous.

Sweet Tart Dough:
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 T. granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 t. vanilla
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 cake flour

Briefly cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla. Add the flours and mix until well combined--it may still be in "clumps". Form the dough into a thick disk. Use immediately, or wrap in plastic and chill or freeze. Let the dough soften before rolling out.

On a lightly floured board (or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap), roll dough out to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Brush off the excess flour and transfer the dough to a greased tart pan. Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan. Use your hands or the rolling pin to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan.  Do not worry if the dough breaks or crumbles as you put it into the pan.  The dough patches very easily.

 Note: This amount of dough is enough for 1 ½ 9-inch tarts. I generally make up a double batch and divide it into 3 disks of dough. Freeze the disks that you don’t need.

No comments: