My favorite afternoon pastime as a child growing up in the 70’s was to climb to the top of the apple tree we had in our backyard. Everyday I would see if I could climb just a little higher. The goal being, of course, to get to the top of the tree. I don’t remember if I ever attained that goal, but like everything in life, the climb was less about the destination than the journey. Ok, maybe not to an eight year old kid. But I had fun just the same.
I’m not sure if the apples on our tree were technically edible. Of course, I tried to eat the few tiny green apples it offered, and they were unbelievably tart. I ate them anyway.
Every fall my folks would travel up to Sebastopol and pick up crates of baking apples and wine grapes. My mom would bake apple pies while my dad and his brothers made wine in the garage. I still have a very vivid memory of stomping grapes with frozen feet in a five-gallon bucket all the while my dad is saying ‘a little more, a little more”.
I’ve had these tartlet tins for a few months now. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity, or inspiration to make use of them and what better time than apple season. Every year Portland Nursery has a three-day apple festival. You get to explore the pomaceous world through tasting hundreds of exotic and not so exotic fruit boasting names like Elstar, King David and Northern Spy. The festival is wonderfully fun and filling. Being an avid apple lover it surprises me when I find half way around the table I’m not sure if I can manage to even look at another apple slice. But, inevitably, there’s a Rubinette or a Splendour, and well, with names like that I have to know what they taste like, don’t I?
Sadly, we weren’t able to attend this year, but Adam’s generous parents delivered two bags bursting with apple deliciousness, one bag for snacking and one for baking.
These beauties are called Lady, or as I like to call them, Little Ladies. Adorable and tiny. They were originally cultivated in France in the 1600’s and served as a Christmas dessert. How appropriate that I made tartlets with them, no?
There must be an easier way to make tartlets. I am sure there are recipes that will use a food processor to knead the dough and the whole process takes less than a morning. However, I was raised Catholic and, somehow, must always make things much more difficult for myself then necessary. I started the dough the night before, and, wanting the tartlets to be rustic and hardy, chose to work with whole-wheat flour dough instead of the recommended all-purpose. The recipe was pulled out of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Judy Rodgers is very involved and very methodical in her cooking and she doesn’t cut corners. Just the opposite, in fact. The book is an opus to cooking and is a damn good read on its own. It’s very easy to become distracted by the storytelling when trying to follow a recipe.
As my apples were tiny, they were difficult to core. Even when using Adam’s boning knife. Please don’t tell him. Instead, I cut the apples in half, thinly sliced, and the cut off the core bits. It worked just fine.
If you start the dough the night before, you should wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Since I used whole-wheat flour, my dough was a little dry and crackly after bringing to room temperature this morning. I resolved that by balling up the dough, generously wetting my hands with cool water, and giving it a good knead. The water helped to make the dough a little softer and pliable.
Zuni Cafe has a few versions of tart dough. I adapted their Basic Rich Tart Dough.
What you’ll need:
1 cup all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
2 tsp sugar (optional)
1 stick of cold butter
Working on a cool surface or in a wide bowl, mix flour and sugar. Slice butter length wise in 1/4 thick piece. I had issues with the butter sticking to the knife so I used a cheese planer. The slices were a little thinner than 1/4 inch, but it worked out ok.
Lay butter slices in flour and flip to coat the surfaces. Press the slices thin with your fingers. Continue to flip and press the butter as it breaks down in to small shards. Work the dough until the mixture resembles crumbs and then work the dough in to a ball. Continue kneading until the ball becomes shiny.
Place the ball between two sheets of plastic and press into a 1 inch thick disk. Roll out with a rolling pin. If the dough starts to crack at the edges, which it will do with whole-wheat flour, form back in to a ball and knead a bit longer. Adding some water here would work to soften the dough. Form back in to a ball, place between sheets of plastic, press and roll out again…..
Well, I failed. The tartlets were baking as I wrote this post, and cooling as I ran off to lunch. We tasted them when we got home, and, well, remind me not to vary flours when baking. It just doesn’t work unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. And apparently, I don’t. Granted the tarts are adorable, and I had fun making them and making pictures of them, but using whole-wheat instead of all-purpose created a gritty and bland tart. At the very least I should had combined the flours. And they definitely needed a compote or custard.
New mantra: baking is not cooking, baking is not cooking…
So, no recipe this week. Just pictures of cute, but not so tasty tartlets. And the promise that I will soon make a tartlet recipe that is both lovely to look at as well as it is to eat. And I will follow the recipe.