A Tarte Aux Pommes, or apple tart as Americans call it, is the quintessential French dessert to me. This is one of the first sweet pastries I learned to make in culinary school and I still remember how excited I was to learn it. I also remember how hard it was to master at first. The perfect crust, flaky and butter, but not dry. Slow-cooked apple compote, with just the right amount of sweetness and tartness, and the slightly softened but not mushy perfectly fanned apple slices with just a touch of coloration.
This was a complex dessert and as someone who did not enter culinary school eager to learn sweets, I was intimidated. But learning how to make it was well worth it. Now this is one of my favorite go-to desserts. This apple tart is delicious, and it reminds me of living in New York in my mid-twenties, beginning my culinary career. This is basically the same recipe I learned to make at French Culinary Institute, only some slight tweaking has been made by me–why mess too much with a good thing.
I love a great apple. While you can buy apples all year-long, they are the most delicious in the cooler months. I eagerly await a delicious honey crisp, which first came to market in the 1960s, and pink Lady (otherwise known as Crispps Pink), which did not make their way to the US till 1990s. These are two of two favorite varieties. Both are fantastic for baking, and both are on the less sweet side. But I believe you should bake with the apples you like best. If you need some guidance on the more than 100 types of apples, check out this US Apple Association article about apple varieties.
For my apple tart I use the pate brisee crust recipe I previously posted, as it is my favorite crust. Many people say to me that they are nervous to make their own crust, including because of the labor involved. Making your own crust does not have to be a chore. in culinary school, we were only permitted to make doughs by hand. That was labor intensive. That is not what I do at home. A kitchen mixer, such as a Cusinart, is ideal for making this tart dough.
The key, as is the key with all doughs, is not to over-mix it. Use the pulse feature and be watchful. Once the crumbles roll into a ball, stop pulsing, and form it into a disk with your hands. The other key thing to remember is allowing the dough time to rest. Resting helps the butter from melting. That helps your tart bake better and keep its shape. This dough can also be made in advance and frozen. Just remember to defrost it slowly inside the refrigerator the day you plan to bake it off.
The apple compote for this apple tart recipe is the key to its success. Apple type is a personal preference, I personally like a combination of sweet and tart but most varieties can work. The slow cooking of the apple compote helps cook out the water within the apples. This helps further sweeten the apples, avoids giving the apples a mushy texture, and sets this dish apart forum the more traditional American apple pie.
Peel, core and slice your apples right before using to maintain their color and to prevent too much oxidation. Some oxidation will occur as you can see in the photo above, that is completely fine, don’t worry about it. The apples should be placed close together, slightly overlapping and without gaps. Small broken apple pieces are great fillers and should be used in any openings you may see. The goal is for no compote to be visible. Once baked, the apples shrink and if the apples layers are not overlapped enough, it looks like you skimped on apples.
Baking your tart should naturally brown the apple edges lightly. But ovens can be uneven, and opening the oven can reduce temperatures. So sometimes, you need to go into your bag of tricks. If you want more coloration or your coloration is uneven, turn on the broiler for a few seconds. But remain ultra vigilant and watch, rotating the tart as needed for even browning. It only takes seconds so what ever you do, don’t walk away from the oven if you try this!
An apple tart is a great dessert option for any special occasion, but is rustic and simple enough to serve after a family meal on Sunday. I like to serve mine “au natural”. But if you prefer, you can also increase the wow factor by glazing it with apricot jam that has been slightly thinned with a teaspoon of water.
Brushed on lightly with a pastry brush, you can achieve a glossy finish similar the apple tarts you see in stores. No matter how you finish this classic French dessert, making it yourself is worth the time and effort if you love a classic apple tart as much as I do. Another apple favorite of mine is my Dutch apple pie, which I highly recommend if you are looking for a more of an apple/cake/pie combination.
Tarte Aux Pommes (Apple Tart)
- For the Pate Brisee (tart dough):
- 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- dash of salt
- 1/4-1/2 cup cold water
- For the Apple Compote:
- 5 large apples, mixture of sweet and tart, peeled, cored and cut in half
- 1/2 lemon
- 2 1/2 ounces cold water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup apple sauce
- dash of cinnamon, optional
- For the Tart Garnish:
- 4 apples, peeled, cored and cut in half
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 4 ounces apricot jam mixed with 1 ounce of water, for glazing (optional)
- Step 1 For the Pate Brisee (tart dough): Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a kitchen mixer, such as a Cuisinart, fitted with a metal blade. Pulse on/off to incorporate. Add the butter and continue to pulse until the dough resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, slowly add the water in a steady stream. Pulse till the dough has just come together. Be careful not to over mix.
- Step 2 With your hands form the dough into a round flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Step 3 For the Apple Compote: While the tart dough is resting, rub the apple halves with lemon. Cut the apples into small cubes.
- Step 4 Using a medium-size sauté pan, add the apple, water, sugar, vanilla extract, apple sauce and cinnamon (if using). Cover the apples with parchment and cook over medium heat until the apples exude their juices, about 10 minutes.
- Step 5 Remove the parchment paper and continue cooking, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until all the moisture has evaporated. The apple compote should be slightly chunky, not smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Step 6 Once the dough has chilled, roll out the dough out to a 14-inch round on a well floured surface. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan and line the pan with the dough. Use your hands to gently press the dough down to adhere. Refrigerate the tart shell for an additional 15 minutes to set.
- Step 7 For the Tart Garnish: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Step 8 Rub the apples halves with lemon. Carefully cut the apples in thin slices, no thicker than 1/8-inch and set aside.
- Step 9 Remove the prepared tart shell from the refrigerator and fill with the cooled apple compote. Using a spatula, smooth out the filling as evenly as possible.
- Step 10 Arrange the apple slices closely together, slightly overlapping over the compote. Continue to cover the compote making two circles, a larger one on the outside and a smaller one on the inside of the tart shell.
- Step 11 Fill the center of the tart with more apples slices. Remember the apples will shrink when they cook so be carefully to not leave any open gaps and no visible compote when you are done placing the apple slices. Lightly brush the sliced apples with the melted butter.
- Step 12 Place the tart on the prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven on the bottom rack and bake for about 50-60 minutes or until the apples are soft and brown on the edges and the pastry is firm and golden.
- Step 13 To Finish The Tart: Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool.
- Step 14 Place the apricot jam and the water into a small saucepan and heat. When the jam has melted, remove from the heat.
- Step 15 Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the apples on the tart till glossy in appearance. Glazing the tart is optional and something I often omit.
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