Or rustic whole apple tarts

Makes about 4 – 8 depending upon apple size and crust thickness.

This is a bit labor and time intensive because of several steps, but none of them are hard, and this is one of the most satisfying desserts I have ever made in terms of bang for the buck.

Prepared tarts can be held in the refrigerator for several hours (wrap the pan in plastic or waxed paper to keep the crust from drying out), which means you can make 'em ahead, pop them in the oven right before dinner and have an absolutely incredible dessert warm from the oven. Any dinner guests to impress?

This recipe is extremely variable due to a few factors. Apple size is the main issue and one which you may not have much control over. I usually only make these with extremely large apples (10 oz. per apple or bigger) because they are a special treat using post-apple-picking wealth. This also works deliciously for smaller apples, which are actually better when considered as single servings. A 10 oz apple with a generous crust can comfortably serve 2 people! Those of us who are crustophiles can choose to use a larger proportion of crust to apple. Those who prefer filling may wish to use a bit less (how about add another apple?). The fillings are also extremely flexible. I’ve included my two favorite variations, but they are far from the only way to go. Follow the guidelines below, use your judgement and imagination, and all will be well. This recipe isn’t fussy, and the result is always delicious, if rugged looking.

Preheat the oven to 425° with the rack in the lower third of the oven (you can drop to 400° if your crust is particularly thick and you are worried that it won’t bake through before the surface browns)

Line a large jelly roll pan with baking parchment. Do not use a cookie sheet. This recipe requires a pan with sides, or else the excess juice will spill and burn. The pan should be big enough to hold the apples with at least 3 inches between them. If they don’t all fit on one pan you’ll either need to use more pans and space them in the middle and bottom thirds of the oven, switching them around halfway through baking so they brown evenly, or bake them in batches. I prefer to bake them in batches as they tend to bake more evenly and require less attention.

You will need up to 4 oz. (120g) of crust for a 10-12 oz apple depending on how much crust you like (I wouldn’t use less than 3 oz (90g) for such a large apple). Smaller apples will of course use less crust (about 50-60g, or 2 oz, for say a 5 oz apple), and the crust can be rolled out thinner as well, although I don’t recommend rolling to less than an 1/8th of an inch thick. This crust freezes well for up to a month, so don’t feel obliged to use it all up at once! The only caveat? Use apples all of about the same size per batch so that the tarts bake at the same rate.
Crust: makes about a pound 1
1 1/2 c. (210g) flour
1/4 tsp. salt
6 oz. (1.5 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter
5-7 tbsp. ice water

Mix the flour and salt together, and then cut the butter into the flour. Work it until all the flour has been coated with butter, but don't worry about making it look uniformly like cornmeal or any such thing. If there are still lumps of butter the size of peas or smaller, your crust will be very flaky. As long as there is no loose flour and all the smallest bits clump up a little and look like cornmeal or very small couscous, you are OK.

Add 5 tbsp. of water and mix gently (use a spoon or something, not your hands) until the water has soaked in and is somewhat distributed. Pinch a lump and if the clumps are sticky or wet, continue to mix, pressing the loose flour/butter mixture into the wet clumps until they feel drier. The goal is to keep the flour from getting overworked and warm (producing toughening gluten), and not to use too much water. Add a little more water as necessary until the dough holds together if you gather it firmly into a mass, although a scattering of loose particles is fine. Wrap the whole lump up in plastic, I like to use a zipper bag, and push it into a flat shape about 3/4 of an inch thick. A rectangle is easiest to divide evenly later if you don’t have a food scale. Let this chill while you prepare your apples.

This is an all-butter crust which has a wonderful rich warm flavor and is much more robust than a crust made from shortening or a mixture of shortening and butter. If you’d like to try a more delicate crust, consider the one in my sweet potato pie recipe. It makes about 11 oz., and should not be rolled as thinly as the butter crust can be as it is not as capable of standing up to the amount of juice the apples will exude. Feel free to leave lumps of butter, but don’t leave any large lumps of shortening unincorporated.

4 jumbo – 9 small apples
about half a large lemon or a whole lime

The easiest is to core all the apples first (keep them whole, only remove the core), applying generous quantities of lemon juice to the cut surfaces as you finish each apple. Make sure to get all bits of the hard capsules that hold the seeds. They are particularly nasty to come across in the finished tart as they don’t soften upon cooking. If you use an apple corer, make sure to double check and clean up any missed bits with a paring knife. I have used just a paring knife to core apples. I have also used a small melon baller to remove stem and flower ends in conjunction with a paring knife for the cores, and I found this to be easier than just using a knife. Be careful not to cut yourself! Your hands will get covered with apple and lemon juices, and trying to disembowel an apple requires a firm grip. Stop to dry your hands, or make smaller slices. You do NOT want to get a cut with your hands covered in lemon juice!

After coring all the apples, peel them completely (I use a vegetable peeler), rubbing each with lemon juice as you complete them. Set the apples aside and prepare a filling.

Version 1:
1/4 c. dark brown sugar (packed to measure)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (reasonably soft. Take it out of the fridge before you start work on the apples)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional and substitutable; I don’t recommend cloves)
1/4 c. walnuts shelled and broken into small pieces (pecans work too, but walnuts stay crunchier)
2 tbsp. raisins. Or currants, dried sweetened cranberries (add more sugar if the cranberries aren’t sweetened), etc.

Mix the sugar and the butter together thoroughly to form a paste. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and stir until well mixed. Add the walnuts and raisins and stir until they are thoroughly coated. If it turns out you don’t have enough to completely stuff the cores of all the apples, add some additional nuts and/or raisins to the bottoms of the core holes after you’ve divided the filling up between them all. This way, upon baking, the butter sugar mixture will seep down to coat them, and you can use exactly the amount you will need.

Version 2: 2
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (reasonably soft, as in Version 1)
1 tsp. honey (lighter flavored honeys, like clover are best)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. dried sweetened cranberries (optional)

Mix the sugar and the butter together thoroughly to form a paste. Add the honey and stir until well mixed. Add the lemon juice, mix well, and then stir in the dried cranberries. This is not so much a stuffing as a seasoning, and there won’t be enough to completely stuff the apple cores. If you have a lot of apples and want more cranberries, feel free to add some more to the butter mixture or stuff the cores with the desired amount of cranberries from the bottom up. As with the previous filling, the butter mixture will seep down to coat the additional cranberries.

Preparing the tarts:

Set up your mise en place with a surface to roll out the dough and a rolling pin, the parchment lined pan, the prepared apples and the filling. Divide your dough for the number of apples. Form each portion into a disk and roll out on a floured surface.

Rolling out the dough: Get an idea of how large the diameter of the pastry round should be by measuring a representative apple. The apple will sit on its blossom end in the center of a round of pastry, and the pastry needs to at least reach the edges of the hole on the top of the apple. Then, when you roll out the dough, leave a thicker portion in the center of the circle and roll the disk out from the center so that it gradually becomes thinner. The centermost section where the base of the apple will sit can be as much as 1/4 of an inch thick, but it should begin to thin beyond that diameter. Make sure that the portion from the edge to about a third of the way in (towards the center)is very thin. This portion will be pleated and if it is too thick, it may not bake thoroughly.

Place an apple on it’s blossom end onto the center of the dough circle. Make sure that it will sit stable, and won’t fall over. Using a small spoon stuff the hole from the top and bottom if filling completely, or just the top if you are just flavoring the apples. This does not have to be done neatly and the sugar mixture can get all over the apple, but make sure to stuff it thoroughly. Then, wrap the dough loosely up the sides of the apple. Evenly space 5-6 folds in the dough to form pleats around the top. Try not to have any extremely thick layering of dough or these areas may not bake thoroughly. Leave an opening, it can be as big as a nickel, for a steam vent, and make sure all the pleats are firmly stuck together. Squeeze the whole apple if necessary to make sure the pleats are secure. If they aren’t, they will unfold in the oven and slump. Still tasty, but not as impressive.

Continue until all the apples are wrapped, placing each on the lined pan. Bake immediately, or place on a different pan, wrap well, and keep chilled until ready to bake (I wouldn’t hold these unbaked more than overnight).

It takes about 40-50 minutes for large apples, depending on a variety of factors which will be different no matter what you do. Basically, keep an eye on them and check small apples at the 30 min. mark. When the crusts are a light to medium golden brown, they should be done. If you like, check the bottom of a tart by slipping a spatula under one. The crust should be deeper golden and crisp looking. The apples will have swelled, and the crust will have puffed out to compensate. There will be juice caramelizing all over the place (thus the lining of the pan). This is normal, as is the crust cracking because the apple swells beyond the limits of the pastry’s ability to expand. If the crust seems underdone, bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, and check every 5 minutes. The crust can get several shades darker, but don’t wait until golden brown turns to overall brown or they will taste burnt. If you think the crust is darkening too quickly, cover the pan with a loose tent of foil.

Let them cool for at least 10 minutes before serving as the apples will be scalding hot. The apples will shrink as they cool and there will be a large open cavity at the top of the pastry. This cavity is the perfect receptacle for some vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, Calvados or otherwise spiked lightly sweetened heavy cream, or even good eggnog. Not that this dessert needs it, but I thought I’d mention it. Gilding the lily is, after all, sometimes warranted.

I prefer these warm from the oven, but they are quite good at room temperature as well. They are best the same day as baked, but are generally acceptable for 2 days. Don’t refrigerate or wrap leftovers in plastic as they will get soggy.

A note on apples: I’ve used Ida Reds, Jonagolds, and Golden Delicious all to excellent effect. My favorite for baking is the Jonagold and then the Golden Delicious because I can get them; they have a good balance of sweet, tart, and fruity; and they maintain their shape upon baking. However, any good pie apple will give you a tasty result, you just need an apple that won’t dissolve into sauce upon contact with heat. Because of this, I do not recommend Macintoshes or Macouns whatsoever. Granny Smiths should work well although I find their flavor somewhat insipid upon cooking (tart, but not fragrant). Red Romes should also be fine, although I also find them somewhat insipid. I’ve not tried Fujis or Mutsus as they are so firm that I suspect they would not soften as much as I would like. I have no evidence for this either way as, as I’ve said, I’ve never used them for baking. I’ve never had a situation where they were my only choices. Apples shaped like the Red Delicious regardless of how well they cook (RDs are NOT a cooking apple by any stretch of the imagination, Royal Galas can work, but I only use them if I’ve run out of other apples), need some help. The narrow bumpy blossom end is not as stable as the plump level blossom ends of other apples. However, this isn’t a big problem. Just trim the blossom end of the apples flat or flip the apple upside down.

1 Ingredient proportions from Flo Braker’s Butter Pastry in The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. A fantastic cook book, incidentally. The chocolate eclairs are delicious, as is the caramel pecan tart.

2 Modified from the glaze for the Buttery Apple Tarts recipe from the same book by Flo Braker. This rustic tart is the family’s favorite recipe from this book, which is good as it is easy and relatively fast. We call it ''apple pizza'' and it is requested for all special occasions.

Some Variations (as requested by momomom)-

Apple Pizza uses the same pastry as this recipe, in slightly larger proportions. It's actually 1/4 more dough, so increase it to 2c. flour (280g); 8oz. butter (2 sticks); and 8-10tbsp. ice water. Leave the salt the same. Prepare it the same way, and roll it out into a large rectangular sheet, about 13"x19" or whatever will fit the bottom of your jelly roll pan with about an inch extra on all sides. Cut 3-4 large apples into 1/8-1/4" slices and lay them over the bottom of the pastry very slightly overlapping like roofing tiles. Fold over the excess pastry, and then dab the surface with the butter/sugar/honey/lemon glaze, reserving about a tablespoon. Bake for about 50min. in a 450°F oven or until the bottom is browned and crisp. You can peak by carefully lifting a corner with a spatula. While it's baking, check every so often to make sure bubbles aren't forming in the crust. If they do, poke them repeatedly with a skewer until they deflate. After removing the pastry from the oven, while it's still hot, pat the remaining glaze over the surface and then let it cool. When it's fully cool, slice into squares and serve. It's best the same day, but is still quite nice the second day if it's kept at room temperature and not sealed up airtight.

Another variant is to make small sized tarts using the dumpling recipe. Roll out about 4oz. portions of dough into rough circles as you would for the whole apples, lay them out on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and fill them with cut up apple wedges that have been tossed in lemon juice. They can hold about 1-1.5 apples. Fold up the sides leaving the top mostly open but with a good lip that covers the apples by at least an inch all the way 'round. Sprinkle on top of the apple slices about 1tbsp. sugar, a drop of honey, and top with about 1tbsp butter. Bake at 450°F for about 40min. or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom (you can peak with a spatula). Serve still warm, or cool. Store at room temp for up to 2 days, and don't put 'em in anything airtight.

All of these are equally lovely with Bartlett pears (or Williams pears), and consider experimenting with other fruit. I've been considering trying this with persimmons, although I'd reduce the sugar considerably.

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