I've been thinking long and hard about what to write for this post. With the new year should come reflections on what has gone by, resolutions or goals for what's ahead, or maybe some deep thoughts on life in general. The truth is, when I think about the passing of yet another year, my mind comes up blank. Time keeps going, whether we're prepared for it or not, and as much wisdom as there is to be gained through experiences and relationships, it doesn't always come in a nice neat package marked by each year that passes. So with that said, I decided instead to simply focus on food, which has its way of helping to move life along pleasantly.
One of my favorite bakeries is Bouchon Bakery. I must have mentioned this before. Some months ago, though, the Yountville Bouchon Bakery was damaged by a fire, and it was a very very sad day. It isn't exactly close to me, so I don't know if it's reopened yet, but going there was always a treat. To my surprise, I received the Bouchon cookbook for Christmas--a gorgeous and completely impractical (not only because of the complexity of the recipes, but because of the book's sheer size and weight) compendium of photos, stories and recipes from the Bouchon bistro and bakery. Flipping through the book, even though it was all about bistro cooking (more "basic" French food), I thought I would never be able to make anything from it, though the pictures looked enticing. It would be the perfect coffee table book, something fun to peruse and dream about but not really to cook from.
I have, however, found one recipe I dared to try. The ingredients were so few, I thought there must be something missing, or it needed cinnamon or some other spice. But this is Thomas Keller--he must know what he's doing, and I decided to trust the recipe. The most complicated thing about it was the caramelization process, which took over an hour on the stove top, but when all was said and done, it was well worth the wait. Baking alone won't achieve the same color and flavor that the slow cooking process can. And there are few things I dislike more when it comes to baking than peeling and coring apples, because I go about it so slowly. But even that won't deter me from making this again.
Adapted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller (with John Cerciello)
For the pate brisee:
1. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix together on low:
- 1 cup flour
- 1 t. salt
- 2 sticks of butter (1 cup), cut into cubes
Add the cubes of butter into mixer a few at a time
2. Turn the mixer up to medium to completely blend the butter and flour.
3. Add the following, adding the water after the flour has been combined completely:
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup ice water
Don't over mix, though the flour and water should be completely incorporated.
4. Divide the dough in half and form into round discs. Refrigerate at least an hour. This recipe will only require one half.
For the tart:
1. Peel, core, and cut into quarters:
- 3 pounds of apples--apples that will hold their shape when cooked (e.g. Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji)
(Thomas Keller provides slightly different instructions on how many apples to use and how to cut and arrange them, but I found that it was easier to do them as I describe it here--though I might try his way next time.)
2. Heat in a 10" cast iron skillet on medium heat:
- 2 T. unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and distributed on the pan
- 3/4 cup sugar, also evenly spread on the pan
- as many apple wedges as can fit in concentric circles in the pan, with the wedges resting on the rounded side
3. As the butter and sugar melt and juices from the apples come out, the amount of liquid will increase and begin to bubble. Periodically rotate the apples together (to maintain the formation) to prevent the apples from sticking to the bottom of the pan. As the apple wedges shrink, add remaining pieces to fill in the empty spaces. Be careful that the sugar does not burn. The liquid should become thick and turn into a deep amber color. This process will take approximately one hour.
4. In between tending to the apples, roll out one of the discs of dough into a round piece large enough to cover the apples in the pan, about 1/4" thick. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.
6. Once step #3 is done, remove the pan from heat. Cover the apples in the pan with dough and tuck any excess along the edge around the apples.
7. Bake on the middle rack for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
8. Remove the pan and allow to cool for no longer than 30 minutes. If it cools too much, the apples will stick to the pan.
9. Place a platter that's larger than 10" in diameter over the pan, and invert the tart on to the platter. The tart can rest for a few hours and be reheated in the oven.
10. Serve each slice with a dollop of creme fraiche.