I have been making some version of this tart for decades and it has yet to fail, even when I was just a novice baker. Easy to make ahead and, assuming you line up your apple slices nicely, it never fails to look beautiful and elicit oohs and aahs. Keep in mind lapsed time — better to make the pastry in the morning or the night before to make the rolling and baking a relaxing affair.
French Apple Tart
- 2 C. all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling dough
- 1 C. cold butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- Ice water (added to egg – enough to make 1/2 C when combined)
- 8 tart crisp apples e.g. Granny Smith (about 3 lbs)
- 1 C. sugar plus more for sprinkling.
- Cut the cold butter into pieces (I like slices) and keep in the fridge until you’re ready
- Put flour, butter and salt in a large bowl cut the butter into pastry using either a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers (a food processor is also an option but make sure not to over process– I prefer the finger method). You’ll end up with a coarse mixture that still has flecks of butter
- Add egg/water mixture and knead together briefly, just until it comes together. Gather it into a rough looking ball (it will be a little sticky)
- Sprinkle generously with flour and shape into into a 1″ thick rectangle. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (or much longer)
- Generously sprinkle working surface with flour and roll pastry, changing directions as needed and moving the pasty often to avoid it sticking to your rolling surface. Flip and add flour as need until the tart approximately measures the size of a 1/4 sheet (roughly 14 x 10; an imprecise rectangle is part of the charm)
- Gently transfer to a baking sheet and fold over the edges slightly. Cover and return to the fridge.
Directions for the apples, glaze and baking:
- Peel the apples, cut in half (top to bottom) then remove the core while keeping the half in shape. This will by much faster if you use a core/slice tool of some sort (see lessons learned #3) but cutting by hand works too. The half cut is top to bottom while the slices are horizontally across the apple, creating slices of even thicknesses.
- For the glaze, combine 1 C. water and 1 C. sugar in a small sauce pan with the cores and even some of the (washed) apple peels. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer until it thickens.
- While this simmers, remove the pastry from the fridge, slice your apples (unless the slicer did it for you), and fan them neatly into rows on your tart.
- Strain your apple glaze and set aside.
- At this point your tart can be covered and refrigerated until you are ready to bake it (up to 8 hours — the apples will discolor a little but this isn’t a problem)
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375ºF . Sprinkle the apples with sugar (depending on their sweetness) and bake for about 45 minutes until the apples are nicely browned and the tart is crisp. Cool slightly
- Just before serving, warm the glaze on the stove top and brush onto the tart. Cut into small rectangles and serve. Option to accompany this with creme fraiche.
- Try not to over-handle the dough. Treat it gently and if it says, “only until it comes together” it means just that.
- I’ve almost always used some sort of peel-off surface on my counter when rolling pastry, which means you can pick it up and flip your pastry into the pan, which is much more forgiving than making sure it’s sturdy enough to lift it freehand. I now have a silicon rolling surface that works well, but for years I simply used a couple pieces of wax paper. This also helps avoid over-handling.
- I love apple peelers that also core and slice. This simple tool, shown here, makes prepping apples a breeze – simply peel and slice then cut in half to get beautifully slice apples. As a bonus, my kids had fun slicing and eating them too. Eventually the suction stops working so after wearing out two of these, I invested in a spiral attachment for my kitchen aid.
- Dough sometimes feels like a big deal, but once you get the hang of it it’s really quite easy. Keep some on hand in your freezer and you’ll always be able to pull off a seasonal fruit tart on relatively short notice.
- I used to use warmed up apple jelly for a glaze, which is an easy shortcut but I the jelly is hard to find and the remaining jelly always hung around in the fridge way too long until I finally got rid of it. The glaze in this recipe is pretty easy and much less wasteful since you’re using the cores and skin from your apples.
Further credit for tart baking goes to Arabella Boxer and her book: Arabella Boxer’s Guide to Elegant and Cooking and Entertaining. She was my first source for an apple tart. Her recipe suggests baking the tart first (blind baking) – then adding the apples – then baking again. It seems a little complicated but I’ll admit that it worked first try. My mother also loves the now late Lady Arabella – the book is laid out in family of recipes encouraging variations on her basic recipes, which is a great way to develop our talents as chefs and bakers. After apple tarts she offers variations such as small plum tarts and currant filled tartlets.