Saturday, October 9, 2010

Great for Children



When summer finally begins to turn to fall in New England and the evenings start to cool and you begin to catch the faint odor of wet leaves and wood fires, it's time for apple picking. So last Saturday morning we packed Sadie into the car and set out through the crisp, bright morning in high spirits and eager anticipation, the child chanting "apoo pickin'" from the back seat. We were something out of a Martha Stewart dream.


We had decided to forgo the simple apple farm we usually go to in favor of a place recommended by friends (who also have small children) as a place "great for kids". Was there a faint warning in the promise of hay rides? Or the barnyard animals? Heedless, we drove on towards our destination with fun.


Surely when we were greeted at the parking area by a platoon of parking attendants, equipped with safety-vests and walkie-talkies, directing us to the far end of a giant field, past the five empty school buses - surely then we should have known what were getting in to. Or when we realized we didn't have the $30 in cash for the two tiny bags we could fill to our hearts content. Or when we had to beg our way onto the hay ride because we had failed to buy tickets, in order to get to the ATM at the other end of the farm … surely then.


No, the totality of the theme-park nightmare that we had stumbled into didn't completely hit me until I encountered the jumbo-inflatable-kiddie-jump-o-rama; then I knew.


It took us nearly an hour and a half before we were actually in an orchard picking apples. By now we regretted not bringing Sadie's lunch (although she was blissfully overdosing on cider donuts) and I lacked the enthusiasm to even fill our two little bags. We simply evacuated before one of us had a melt-down (I was the closest.)


What's a parent to do? Why, make rustic apple tarts of course.





2 little Rustic Apple Tarts

This is about the simplest tart you can imagine and I've always had the impression it's pretty hard to screw up. I've kept it to just apples and spices, but any number of things can be added: raisins or currents, cranberries, raspberries, pears, quince. The only two caveats I would make are; keep the dough cold (refrigerate for at least an hour after mixing) and let the apples macerate for a good 10 minutes before assembling the tarts to let them throw some juice. The technique for the dough may seem a little screwy, but I think I got the basic idea from Jacques P├ępin or Julia Child many years ago - so there.

Filling
5 medium-sized apples
3/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon allspice
pinch of salt
a few twists of black pepper
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of calvados (or brandy)

Crust (a recipe and a half)
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups (240g) of all-purpose flour
10 - 11 tablespoons (160g) of unsalted butter - cubed
3 teaspoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
enough ice-water to bind the dough

For the dough: combine the flour, salt and sugar in food processor and completely pulse in half the butter. Add the remaining butter and drizzle the ice-water, pulsing as little as possible to get the dough to just ball up (the objective being to keep the remaining butter from being completely processed). Quickly form into a ball and wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut them into whatever size dice you prefer. Zest and squeeze the lemon onto the diced apples. Add all the sugar, spices and calvados and stir it up good. Stir it periodically over the next 5 or 10 minutes. It should throw a fair amount of juice which I think helps to cook the apples later.

To assemble the tarts, cut the dough in half and roll out two crusts (approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick - I like the crust a little on the thick side for these tarts) and one at a time place them on baking sheet lined with parchment. Spoon in a generous amount of apples and juice into the middle of the crust, leaving a couple of inches of dough on the edges. Then, quick before the juice runs all over the place, fold over the outer edge, crimping as you go. Brush with some of the remaining juice.

Pop into a 350˚ pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes or until the tops of the crust and apples are a nice, dark, golden-brown.


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