It is apple season in Washington. This year, Washington produced over 5.5 billion pounds of apples. Billion with a "B". That means that millions and millions of apples have been flooding into the farmers' markets and stores, and dozens and dozens have landed in our kitchen. The apples that we have in our kitchen did not come from the market however, they came from our neighbors' orchard. Our neighbors, Fred and Gwen Bassetti, have a really beautiful farm east of the mountains that Talley and I visited a few weeks ago. Their orchard is stocked with a few different varieties of apples, but the ones we took home were an old variety, the name of which is not known. They think it is related to an apple called the Spokane Beauty, but with not much more to go on, they call it the Bassetti Apple. The Bassetti is about perfect as far as apples go: tart balanced with sweet, crispy without being hard. Bland, mealy, red delicious they are not. They produce fantastic cider and Gwen swears by them as baking apples. I've been using them in this tart with great results. Bassettis will be hard to come by, so substitute with another good baking apple, granny smith or braeburn maybe. Cook, a oui chef journal recently wrote up descriptions of almost a dozen apple cultivars that are worth taking a look at. Talley insists this tart is better than any other dessert that has come out of this kitchen.
Rustic Apple Tart
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Combine the flour, sugar and salt and then add the chopped, cold butter. The colder the butter the better - I take mine directly from the freezer and chop it up. Work it with a pastry cutter or your hands until all the butter is chopped up into pea sized bits. Using hands is fine, but don't over handle as it will begin to melt the butter - you really want to avoid your butter melting into the flour. Add the cold vodka and mix gently. Next add ice water in small increments until the dough pulls together into a fairly well-formed ball. Once it comes together, stick it in the fridge for at least ½ hour (leave it for an hour or two if you can manage it). Peel, core and slice your apples into ¼-inch slices. Get your dough out and give it a knead or two, then roll it out into about a ¼-inch disk. Transfer it onto a baking pan lined with parchment. Combine 1 tablespoon of flour and 2 tablespoons of sugar and spread it on the pastry in about a ten inch diameter circle. Arrange your apples in concentric circles on top of the sugar and flour mixture. Brush the apples with 2 tablespoons of melted butter and then sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of sugar, depending on the sweetness of your apples. Lightly grate fresh cinnamon and/or nutmeg over the top (careful with the nutmeg). Sprinkle the freshly grated parmesan cheese on top OR scatter the top with whole raspberries. Now fold the edges of the pastry over the apples, the middle should be exposed. Mix the egg yolk with a tablespoon and a half of milk and brush onto the pastry (this isn't strictly necessary, but it makes for a prettier picture!). Cook at 400˚F for about an hour, or until the apples are soft and cooked through and the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and brush with the melted, strained raspberry preserves. Talley will not eat this with out ice cream. Do what you think is right. UPDATE: I wrote this in the comments as a response to a question, but it really ought to be up here in the directions: Vodka in pastry is for crispiness. Nothing makes me happier than crispy, flaky crust. As far as I understand it, a few things go into crispiness, vodka alone won’t do it. Here, though, are the things I know to be the most important factors:
- 1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ Tbsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces, plus 2 tablespoons melted
- 2 Tbsp ice cold vodka
- ice water
- 3-4 tart, firm apples apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
- freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons melted and strained raspberry preserves and a few raspberries, fresh or frozen, OR 3 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 Tbsp milk
Vodka – it’s an alcohol of course, which means it’s really volatile, which means it evaporates quickly, more quickly than water, which means it will evaporate as the dough cooks and will help to dry out the dough as it cooks. The biggest factor in a crispy crust, as I understand it, is drying the dough to, well, a crisp. To do that you have to thoroughly bake the crust – that’s the really crucial thing – vodka just gives you an edge.
Another thing worth saying: Big pieces of frozen butter = flakiness: You need your butter to be unmelted and cold once the crust is rolled out, which means you need to start with real cold butter and keep it cold during every step of the process; if at any point it even thinks about melting, put it back in the freezer. The reason is that you want your butter, once it’s in the oven, to lodge itself into the dough and hold it’s shape while the begins to cook. If the dough cooks around the butter before it melts, it will leave a little pocket of air. If you have lots of big, flat pieces of butter in your dough, it will mean lots of pockets of air, which equals flakiness.