Thursday, April 13, 2006

In Bloom

My morning commute to work can be a daunting endeavor. It's a mere 6 block walk, taking 10 minutes at the most. A hop, skip, and a jump, I know. But for good reason, my fair city of Seattle has earned the nickname "Rain City". Through this endless drip I drag myself each day, coffee taking grip and prep lists forming in my waking brain. I often think, "I don't remember there being this much rain last year."

Just when I begin to think about packing my things and moving to a sunnier climate, the skies open a bit, and spring begins to spring. Light spills out of the sky, illuminating lush new growth, and teasing blossoms out of dry branches. My morning commute becomes a delight, walking down residential streets lined with trees in bloom.

As I enter the door to the kitchen, these blossoms fresh in mind, I can't help but bring spring inspiration to my menu. While flowers themselves haven't made their way into my desserts, one tart, made of apples, blooms.

To recreate this tart is simpler than it appears. The apples are halved, cored, and sliced thinly. The slices remain stiff, but soften after sitting an hour in a coating of sugar and spice. The juices are drained, and the soft petals of apple in concentric circles starting from the outside, working in. The juices are cooked into a syrup, mounted with butter, and brushed over the top before baking.

As the tart is sliced, warmed, and served aside burnt sugar icecream and salted creme fraiche caramels, the blossom is lost to the eye. It would surely bring spring into the dining room, alas, it's a joy I'll have to keep for myself... and my faithful readers.

Apple Blossom Tart

1 blind baked tart shell

7 tart apples
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cornstarch

1. Peel, core, and slice the apples just under 1/8th an inch thick.

2. In a small bowl combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Use your fingers to mix the ingredients together, making sure to break up all the brown sugar lumps.

3. Sprinkle the sugar over the apples and very lightly toss the apples, making sure not to break them up. If the apples are too stiff, and are beginning to crack, let the mixture sit 10 minutes before trying to toss again. The apples should be a little softer, and a little more forgiving. Let the apples sit for an hour.

4. In the mean time, I prepare the crust. I use a pie dough baked in a tart shell, but a pie crust baked in a shallow pie pan works just as well. Any crust recipe you are familiar with will work here. Roll the crust and transfer to your pan. Trim the sides 1/2 inch larger than the sides of the pan. With fingers moistened with water, wet the outer 1/4 inch of the pie crust. Fold the edge of the pie crust over enough so the fold is even with the top of the pan. Press the dough to adhere. Chill the crust for 20 minutes. With a fork, prick the surface of the crust in 1 inch intervals. Line the crust with foil and fill with pie weights, or a good amount of dried beans. Prebake the crust for 20 minutes with pie weights at 425 degrees, then remove the foil and pie weights, and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the surface is light golden and looks baked. This blind baking ensures the crust will be cooked through after the moist apple filling is added.

5. Strain the juices from the apples and set aside in a small sauce pan. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the apples and toss them enough to distribute the cornstarch evenly.

6. Begin layering the apples, side by side, against the outer edge of the shell. Continue to lay them side by side, working around in concentric circles, filling the tart from the outside in.

7. When the tart is filled with apples, place the saucepan with the juices over a medium heat. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half and becomes bubbly and syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the 2 tbsp butter. Stir until the butter is melted and combined.

8. With a pastry brush, cover the apple tart evenly with the syrup, using a blotting motion. A stroke motion will dislodge the apple slices.

9. Cover the tart snugly in sheet of foil. Cut steam vents in the foil, and bake the tart at 375 for 45 minutes. After this time, remove the foil and check to see if the apples are cooked through. With the tip of a knife, check the inner apples, as they are the slowest to cook. If the apples need more time, replace the foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Check again and add time as necessary.

10. Let the tart cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour so the juices can set.

11. When the tart is cool enough to touch, press the apples lightly towards the outside to create the blossom effect.

12. When cutting the tart, use a serrated knife and use knife strokes that pull towards the crust. A knife stroke pushed towards the center will dislodge all the apples on either side of the knife.


Anonymous Ivonne said...


That is absolutely beautiful! And as always I just love your writing. I hope the rain comes to an end soon!

Thank you for sharing the recipe.

April 14, 2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Hope said...

Dana, what a gorgeous tart-- you are a real culinary artist!

April 14, 2006 10:27 PM  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

This is beautiful but I really love that you showed us a cut slice.

I'd love to see a photo of the knife you used. It almost looks like you used a "fish knife." Not just any serrated blade would be able to do this...n'est pas?

April 14, 2006 10:39 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

Dana, that tart is absolutely stunning - what a perfect rosette! I've got to get myself over there and try some of your creations very, very soon...

April 16, 2006 10:47 AM  
Blogger Shauna said...

My god, that tart is exquisite. I simply must stare it again. Unfortunately, I can't eat any (silly gluten), but looking at that beautiful design is enough for this girl, at the moment.

(And I love the specificity of Shuna's comment!)

April 17, 2006 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Hi Dana,
Hello from another rainy city! Ok, right now the sun is coming through, but we've had far too much rain over the last weeks...
Anything with apples, may it be tarts or cakes, is well represented in our kitchen, but your tart is so extravagant in design, I have to try it... Beautiful work!

May 02, 2006 10:24 PM  

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