I do like to eat apples, but I LOVE apple desserts. When I was a kid, our family had a summer house on a lake in rural New Jersey, and fall was always my favorite time of year there. I started baking as a kid, with lots of encouragement from my mom. There were five kids in my family, so I think she was relieved when anyone wanted to cook or bake, so she wouldn’t have to. Every autumn, we’d visit the local orchard and pick up bags of just-picked apples that my mom and I would turn into delicious pies, crisps, and sauce. We also had a crab apple tree in our backyard. Occasionally I’d eat a few off the tree, but they were pretty sour—an acquired taste!
At their best, apples are quite beautiful, ranging from garnet red to rosy pink to a striking green, with a flavor that varies from sugar-sweet to tart. They crunch when you bite into them, releasing all their splendid juicy flavor. If you venture beyond the produce department at your supermarket, you’ll find that there are so many delicious varieties to choose from, each with its own distinctive color, texture, and flavor. Some are best for eating (my favorite is the Cox’s Orange Pippin, a perfect balance between sweet and tart), while others shine when baked into a pie or crisp.
Apples are extremely versatile—they are great in pies, but are also wonderful in tarts, cakes and simple crisps and cobblers and even sorbets. And who doesn’t love a perfectly spiced baked apple topped with runny cream or vanilla ice cream? Apples are generally picked when ripe, so there’s no guessing when they’re ready to use, a common problem with peaches and other stone fruits. But in my mind, it’s the fragrance of baking apples—more than any other fruit—that unlocks childhood memories of home-baked pies and the comfort of being at home with the family during the holidays. And there are so many wonderful varieties, each with their own nuance of texture and flavor (though you may have to visit a farmers’ market to see them; supermarkets tend to limit their selection to those that have been shipped from afar). I don’t know them all, but I do have my favorites: Pink Lady and Northern Spy for pies and tarts, Granny Smiths for crisps, Gravensteins for applesauce, and Rome Beauties for baked apples. In general, you should use apples with a dense, crisp flesh for baking, when you want them to retain their shape, and juicier ones when you want them to fall apart, as for applesauce. Apples have a soft flavor that pairs well with so many autumn ingredients: ginger, cinnamon, cranberry, maple, caramel, rosemary, almonds, and walnuts are some of my favorites.
Apple and Almond Tart
I love this classic French tart. A buttery almond crust is filled with a very almond-y cream filling and then topped off with thin slices of apple crusted with brown sugar. Because it’s made with almonds, the tart dough is a little delicate to work with, but it can easily be patched, if necessary. The apricot glaze, brushed on after baking, makes this tart look like it came straight from a Paris patisserie.
Makes one 11-inch tart, serving 10
- Almond Tart Crust
- 3/4 cup (64 g/2.24 oz) unblanched sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons (25 g/0.88 oz) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (132 g/4.6 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon (0.83 g/0.03 oz) salt
- 8 tablespoons (113 g/4 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for at least 20 minutes
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons (30 g/1 oz) ice-cold water
- Almond Cream and Apple Filling
- Almond Cream (below)
- 2 medium (453 g/1 lb) Granny Smith apples
- 2 teaspoons (30 g/1 oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup firmly packed (54 g/1.9 oz) light brown sugar, divided
- 1/3 cup (100 g/3.5 oz) apricot preserves
- 1/3 cup (28 g/1 oz) unblanched sliced almonds
- Make the crust
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds and sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Add the flour and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and, using a fork, toss them with the flour until coated. Pulse the mixture until the butter pieces are about the size of small peas. In a small bowl, stir together the egg yolk and water with a fork. Add the yolk mixture to the processor and pulse until the mixture just starts to come together. Transfer the dough to a work surface, gather together, and shape into a 5-inch disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out.
- Place the unwrapped dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 13-inch circle, lifting and rotating the dough often and dusting the work surface and dough lightly with flour as necessary. Roll the dough up on the rolling pin and unroll it over an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Roll the pin over the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough. Prick the bottom of the tart shell with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray the dull side of a 12-inch square of aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray. Line the tart shell with the foil, dull-side-down, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully lift the foil (along with the weights) out of the tart pan and bake the crust for about 7 minutes longer, until the crust is just beginning to brown lightly. Leave the oven on. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Spread the Almond Cream into the cooled tart shell in an even layer. Refrigerate the tart while you prepare the apple filling.
- Peel and core the apples and cut them in half. Cut each half into 1/4-inch slices and place the slices in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the apples and toss to coat. Toss 3 tablespoons (40 g/1.4 oz) of the brown sugar with the apple slices.
- Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles over the almond cream in the tart, overlapping the slices slightly and covering the cream. Sprinkle the apples with the remaining 1 tablespoon (13.5 g/0.5 oz) brown sugar. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling and apples are nicely browned. Cool the tart in the pan set on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
- Place the apricot preserves in a heatproof glass measure and microwave on high power for about 30 seconds, or until bubbling. Strain the hot preserves through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Brush the strained apricot preserves over the top of the tart.
- Cook the almonds in a skillet over medium heat, tossing or stirring frequently, until lightly toasted. Cool completely.
- Sprinkle the top of the tart with the toasted almonds. Serve the tart at room temperature.
Makes about 2 cups
- 1 cup (85 g/3 oz) unblanched sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup (100 g/3.5 oz) granulated sugar, divided
- 7 tablespoons (100 g/3.5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons (16 g/0.58 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 g/0.17 oz) vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon (15 g/0.5 oz) dark rum
- In the bowl of a food processor, process the almonds and 2 tablespoons (25 g/0.88 oz) of the sugar until the nuts are finely ground.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and the remaining 6 tablespoons (75 g/2.6 oz) sugar together at medium speed until well combined and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the ground almonds and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour, vanilla, salt, and rum and mix until combined. Store the unbaked almond cream in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.