The last several weeks have been rather complicated. I’ve made two multi-tiered wedding cakes for good friends and countless desserts for a client tasting, many with numerous components and sub-recipes. To-do lists are spilling from my computer at an alarming rate and stacks of receipts have turned my wallet into something worthy of George Costanza. Today I just wanted to make something simple. Spying the basket of apples on my counter, I formulated a plan.
A square of puff pastry, a few thin slices of apple, a sprinkle of sugar and a dot of butter was all I needed. Baked until puffed and golden brown, I made the simplest apple tarts possible. I could have left it there, but no, it is impossible when I can do one more thing. In the 25 minutes the tarts were baking, I reduced some apple juice with a little sugar for a glaze. Because sometimes I just can’t help myself.
And that was it. In a little over a ½ hour, I had four gorgeous apple tarts with minimal effort. At a time when we place such high expectations on ourselves to produce perfect things to serve in our imperfect lives, I encourage you to try these. If making a pie is too intimidating, try these. If you need something pretty and fancy, try these. If the world around you just sucks and you need something warm and comforting, please do try these.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. During the holiday season, and for some reason only during the holiday season, Trader Joe’s carries an excellent and affordable puff pastry. While I love the Dufour brand, I balk at paying the $13 price tag. And let’s be honest, while homemade is fantastic, I rarely take the time to make it especially during this time of the year. So instead I’ll pick up a few packs of the butter puff from Trader Joe’s as it is far superior to other grocery store options. Yes, Pepperidge Farm with your shortening filled product, I’m talking to you. Get ‘em while they last!
Apple tarts like this, with thinly sliced, intricately arranged apples, were a big part of my childhood. A favorite outing was to Caf’ Casino, a sort of cafeteria style French café. I’d push my tray along the selections, carefully looking at everything, and while my mom ordered soupe à l’oignon gratinée and boeuf bourguignon, I would carefully place the cheese plate with thick slices of soft brie on my tray along with a crusty French roll and a beautiful little apple tart, thick with a shiny, gelatinous glaze. My 10-year old self felt so adult, so sophisticated. Making these apple tarts brought me wistfully right back to those Caf’ Casino days, though I have to be honest. These are significantly better.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR. COMFORT. JUST COMFORT. As I finish writing this Friday evening, news is unfolding on several suspected terrorist attacks around Paris. Very good friends of mine live directly behind the Bataclan Concert Hall. After a few frantic texts, I learned they are shaken but safe and ok. And oddly, I remembered that I ate a tart very similar to this on their terrace a few months ago and likely gazed over the roof of the Bataclan while sipping my coffee. Such a strange time to remember that but I often react to stressful situations in odd ways. I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this world we now live in. My heart breaks for the city as they sort out the chaos, collect their loved ones and try to manage their grief so soon after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I just don’t know what to think anymore.
Other, not as simple, apple tarts and pies: Classic Apple Pie, Salted Caramel Apple Pie, French Apple Tart, Cider Apple Pie
Six years ago: Lamb & Ale Stew
Five years ago: Blue Cheese Dressing with a Wedge Salad
Four years ago: Maple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears
Three years ago: Kale & Squash Salad
Two years ago: Apple Cider Compote and an Orchard Party
Last year: Roasted Delicata Squash – 4 Ways
SIMPLE APPLE TARTS
Makes 4 tarts
A firm baking apple is perfect – golden delicious, granny smith and jonagold are all nice. The key is to slice it very thinly – 1/16” or so. A mandoline on the thinnest setting works perfectly.
For the tarts:
One sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, halved and sliced thinly (about 1/16″)
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cold unsalted butter, cubed
for the glaze:
½ cup apple juice or cider
2 Tablespoons sugar
pinch of kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured surface, unfold puff pastry and gently roll out the creases.
- With a sharp knife, cut the pastry into four even squares, approximately 4 ½” x 4 ½”.
- Transfer pastry squares to a parchment lined sheet pan and score a ¾” border all the way around each square – do not cut all the way through the dough.
- Dock the inner square numerous times with a fork (aka as poking) and trim any uneven edges so that you have a perfect square.
- Layer the apple slices in the inner square, overlapping slightly. Two layers of six slices each should be just fine – you want a thin layer of apples.
- Sprinkle each tart with 1 teaspoon of sugar and dot with the butter.
- Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the pastry is golden brown.
- While the tarts are baking, combine the apple juice, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce on medium-high until syrupy. Depending on the size of your pan, this will take around 15-20 minutes.
- When the tarts are golden brown, remove from the oven.
- Brush the glaze onto the apples. Let cool for the glaze to set.
- If desired, dust with a bit of powdered sugar. Tarts are best served the same day they’re made though they can be baked several hours in advance.