Friday, October 19, 2012

Apple Tart with Pecan Shortbread Crust

There are two ingredients that I, admittedly, become a little obsessed with this time of year – pumpkins and apples.  I put them in everything and I’m always daydreaming of other ways to cook with them.  And there are still more recipes to come this fall, because I’m not done yet – I have to cook with pumpkins until I almost can’t stand the sight of them.  And even then, I still kind of want more.

Last weekend, we cut a butternut squash in half and filled the cavity with red wine-soaked apples and cranberries, with a little brown sugar, then roasted the whole thing until the squash was tender.  In hindsight, I should have cooked the apples and cranberries separately, because by the time the squash had reached the right tenderness, the fruit piled on top had burned.  Fortunately, it was only the top layer, and the fruit underneath was juicy, sweet and flavorful, and so delicious with the roasted squash, a whole roast chicken and garlicky green beans with mushroom gravy.

On Saturday morning I woke up eager to make the apple tart I’d been thinking of.  I started with my favorite shortbread tart crust, with chopped pecans added to the dough.  And a couple varieties of apples – Granny Smith and Honey Crisp – just to vary the flavor a little for tartness and sweetness.  I decided to leave the peel on the apples – simply because I wanted to see the green and red color on each slice – I thought it looked really beautiful.  If I were making a pie, though, where the apples would not be arranged on top but covered up by crust, then I absolutely would peel them.  They can certainly be peeled for this tart, too, and it would look just as pretty.

I juiced and zested an orange and tossed the apples with the citrus then added brown sugar, flour and spices.  Layered in the tart crust the apple slices looked so lovely.  Jamie woke up just in time to start sneaking apple slices as I was arranging them in the crust.

For the final touch, I warmed some orange marmalade and then strained it, so that I had just the orange syrupy jam, and brushed it over the apples after taking the tart out of the oven.  As the tart cooled, the orange marmalade glaze gave the apples a beautiful glossy sheen.

With the apple tart finished and cooling on the counter, we headed out for a drive to the mountains and then in search of pumpkins for carving.  We were going to drive to Mount Evans, which is the highest paved road in North America – 14,240 feet at the summit, above the timberline – but as it turns out the road had already been closed for the year due to snow.  There’s a very short window of opportunity for driving this road – just from the end of May through September – and we were too late.

As it turns out, we were also too late to see any of the fall colors in the mountains.  While the colors are still at their peak in Denver with vivid red and yellow leaves everywhere, the colder temperatures in the mountains speed up the process, and the trees up there are already stripped bare for winter.

As we drove back down to Denver, it started raining, and by the time we reached the farm where we were going to pick out pumpkins, everything was wet and very, very muddy, with the rain still pouring down.  As fun as it would have been to trek through a muddy pumpkin field for the perfect pumpkin (Jamie had his eye on the biggest one, of course), we decided to head to the grocery store, where we picked out a few pumpkins as well as ingredients for chili for dinner.

Back home, warm and dry, we sampled the apple tart and set the chili on the stove to simmer.  Three carved pumpkins, two bowls of chili and a slice of apple tart with caramel ice cream later, we called it a day.

Apple Tart with Pecan Shortbread Crust
printable recipe

pecan shortbread crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered or confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • Tart pan, with a removable bottom

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt.  Scatter the cold butter pieces over the flour, and using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs (about 1-2 minutes).  Add the egg yolk, a little at a time, stirring into the flour and butter with your fingers.  Working quickly, work the dough with your fingers to incorporate the moisture into the flour.  (The dough will appear very dry, and you might think it doesn't have enough liquid, but don't worry, it will come together.)  After 2-3 minutes of working the dough, it should start to hold together enough so that you can gather it into a ball.  During the last minute of working the dough, sprinkle in the pecans.

Grease your tart pan very thoroughly with butter or cooking spray.  Take half the dough and press evenly into the bottom of the tart pan, all the way to the edges.  Take the other half of the dough, and press evenly around the sides of the pan.  Freeze crust in pan for 30 minutes while you prepare the apples.

apple filling:

  • 4 apples, cored and thinly sliced 1/8 inch thick (I used 2 Granny Smith and 2 Honey Crisp)
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, diced
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 teaspoon water

Preheat the oven to 400.  Place the apple slices in a large bowl and toss with the orange juice and zest.  In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle over apples and toss to coat each slice.

Begin arranging the apple slices in the tart shell, starting at the edge and working towards the middle.  After filling the bottom with a layer of apples, build another layer right on top, continuing until all the apple slices are used up and the tart shell is full.  Dot the apples with the diced butter.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes, covering the edge with a pie shield after 30 minutes, if needed, to prevent the crust from over-browning. Remove the tart from the oven and set on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, combine the orange marmalade and water.  Warm in the microwave for 30 seconds, them pour through a mesh strainer.  Using a pastry brush, brush the syrup (not the solid bits) over the warm apples.  Let cool completely, then serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen