Sunday, March 30, 2008

Homemade Apple Tart

There's just something so comforting about homemade dough. If you ask me, that's pretty hard to beat with anything store bought but also surpinsingly easy to make. There's just something soothing about making dough, it captures all the stress of the day and somehow makes it dissapear. The longer I knead, the calmer I become.

Making dough has the wonderful power to bring me back to a time long gone: to an artisanal bakery where everything is made by the capable hands of dedicated artists - because dough-makers is truly in art. There is such a sense of acheivement when making dough - especially with one's bare hands. That these simple ingredients can be transformed into a malleable and souple dough with endless possibilities amazes me everytime.

I have had my fair share of dough making these past few weeks, and have a newfound love for homemade pasta dough, as well as for sweet and savory tarts. French apple tarts have been on the top of the list. They generally have very thin crusts, are filled with fresh fruit and are open-faced (with no dough on top). This is a simple apple tart, but could easily be substituted with fresh pears, plums, apricots and so on.

At culinary school, we were taught to serve it cold with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, but it could most definitely be enjoyed warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


For the dough (enough for one 8-inch tart)
200 grams of all-purpose flour
100 grams of very cold butter
30 grams of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 egg, beaten with 2 teaspoons of water

Apple compote:
3 granny smith apples - peeled, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 lemon, juiced
5 tablespoons of water
50 grams of granulated sugar

3 golden delicious apples
1/4 cup of melted butter
About 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar

Sift the flour, sugar and salt directly onto a work surface (a cold surface such as marble works best). Cut the butter into small pieces. The butter must be very cold before you add it into the flour. Mix the butter into the flour by using a metal pastry scraper to cut in the butter and fully incorporate it into the flour mixture. You can also use your fingers, but if you do you must do it quickly to ensure that the butter stays as cold as possible. Once the dough has the texture of fine sand, create a well in the center by using a cup or a glass. Add the egg and water to the center (you can do this in batches depending on the size of your well). Gently beat the egg in the center and slowly incorporate the flour into the center making sure that the well does not break. Once most of the flour has been incorporated you can start using your hands. Knead the dough and form a round ball of dough. At this point, take a small handful of the dough, and, using the palm of your hand, smear it out completely onto the counter surface. This process makes sure that the butter is fully incorporated into the dough, and helps form a dough that will be easy to work with. Re-form the smeared piece of dough, and repeat with the rest of the dough until you have a pile of chunks of dough. Form it into a ball again. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the apple compote. Put the lemon juice in a bowl and place the apples in it as you are cutting them to prevent them from loosing the color. Add the water and sugar and transfer to a pan on low heat. Place a circle of cut-out parchment paper (the size of your pan) with a small hole in the center, right on top of the apples. This ensures that the apples cook gently. Once the water has evaporated, remove the parchment lid and stir until the apples soften. This should take about 25 minutes. The apple compote should stay a little chunky. Leave to cool in the fridge.

Preheat your oven to 425 F. Take the dough out of the fridge, unwrap and leave it out for a few minutes so it warms up a little. Roll out to obtain a 1/8 inch thick dough. Place into a well buttered 8-inch tart mold. Add a thin and even layer of apple compote spreading the compote gently with the back of a spoon. Cut the golden delicious apples (after they have been peeled and cored) into very thin slices. Place evenly on top of the compote. Make sure that the apples are as flat as possible or they will burn. Brush with melted butter and sprinke with sugar (this helps the apples to brown and slightly caramelize). Place in the oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the apples are golden brown. Leave to rest before cutting. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Almond and Chocolate Covered Strawberries

I haven't had as much time as I would want to post my recent food expeditions. First, I burnt myself in school with boiling caramel.. I was making creme caramel, a dessert I do not care for very much but that a lot of people adore. The texture of the flan has never really appealed to me, but let me say, it really got me back for it! I was ladling the caramel at the bottom of a ramekin (which is then toppled onto a plate for service) and my finger slipped into the caramel. Needless to say the pain was excruciating. I have since recovered, and still enjoy caramel as much as ever (I plan on making caramel-dipped apples later this week) but I am now that much more aware of the dangers of kitchen life! If anyone would like the recipe for the caramel flans, do ask, I will not hold it against you.

For the time being, just a little delicacy to enjoy on any day. This is actually a really easy dessert to entertain with and I count on experimenting with many more variations involving strawberries, chocolate and nuts (it seems hard to go wrong with any of these).


8-10 strawberries
A good handful of bittersweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons of butter
1 handful of sliced almonds

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Chocolate burns easily so a double boiler makes sure that the chocolate melts gently. Add the butter in small chunks. Stir once the chocolate is melted. Transfer to a bowl. Crush the almonds into small pieces and place in another bowl. Dip each strawberry into the warm chocolate and then into the almonds and place on a rack covered in aluminum foil. Leave to set in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. If the chocolate seems a little thick, add a little melted butter or heavy cream to thin it out.
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