Apple Tart

Season: Fall / Winter | Active Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (not including making the Rough Puff Pastry) | Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, plus time to cool | Difficulty: 3 (Moderate)

I went to culinary school in Paris and lived in the 3rd arrondissement on rue du Temple, just a couple of blocks from an outpost of Poilâne, perhaps the most famed bread bakery in the world. Occasionally I’d stop in for one of their superlative apple tarts. It was a simple mix of apples, butter, brown sugar, and pastry, but on days when I’d catch them still warm from the oven, I was sure it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. That magical apple tart, plus the classic tarte aux pommes we made in culinary school, were the source materials for this one, which layers apple slices over the top of a caramelized apple compote. It will never taste exactly the way Poilâne’s did, but warm out of the oven it comes reasonably close.

Serves 8

6 medium Pink Lady or any sweet-tart, firm baking apples (about 2½ lb / 1.13kg)

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar (1.8 oz / 50g)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 oz / 85g)

Seeds scraped from ½ vanilla bean

¼ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

2½ cups plus 4 tablespoons unfiltered unsweetened apple cider (22 oz / 624g)

½ recipe Rough Puff Pastry (this page) or 1 sheet thawed frozen store-bought puff pastry ①

All-purpose flour, for rolling out

1 large egg, beaten

Demerara sugar, for sprinkling the top

½ cup apricot jam (5.6 oz / 160g)

Cook the compote: Peel, halve, core, and coarsely chop 3 of the apples. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of the butter (2 oz / 57g), the vanilla seeds, salt, and 1 tablespoon water (0.5 oz / 14g).

Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Stop stirring and continue to cook, swirling the saucepan often, until the mixture is thick and the bubbles are large and slow to pop, about 2 minutes.

Add the chopped apples and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to prevent scorching, until the apples are softened and starting to caramelize, 8 to 10 minutes.

(If you are using particularly fresh or juicy apples, they may take quite a bit longer to take on color, but be patient and continue to cook until you see caramelization.)

Reduce the compote: Slowly stir in 2½ cups of the apple cider (20 oz / 567g), taking care because the mixture will sputter, and return it to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the cider at a vigorous simmer and cook until it is reduced by about half, 8 to 12 minutes.

Crush the apples with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon and continue to cook, stirring and mashing often, until the mixture is reduced to a thick, coarsely textured, deep golden brown applesauce, 12 to 18 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until nearly all of the moisture has been driven off and you have a thick compote that doesn’t immediately cover the line left by the spoon as you drag it across the bottom of the pan, 5 to 8 minutes longer (you should have between 1½ and 1¾ cups).

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Transfer the compote to a bowl or container and refrigerate until cold.

Preheat the oven: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Roll out the pastry: Let the pastry sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to soften. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface, dusting the pastry with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, into a large ⅛-inch-thick rectangle.

② Trim along the 4 sides to create a clean rectangle measuring about 13 × 9 inches (a little longer or wider is fine). If using thawed frozen puff pastry, gently roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface just to smooth creases and lengthen or widen as needed. Transfer the pastry to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.

Dock and egg wash the pastry: Leaving a 1-inch border around the edges, prick all across the surface of the pastry with the tines of a fork. Use a pastry brush to paint the 1-inch border of pastry with the beaten egg, then sprinkle the egg-washed area with a generous dusting of demerara sugar. Refrigerate the pastry while you slice the remaining apples.

Slice the remaining apples: With the 3 remaining apples positioned upright and stem pointing skyward, cut down and around the cores to remove the flesh in 4 lobes (you’ll be left with a square-shaped core). Set the lobes flat-side down and slice lengthwise into thin slivers as evenly as possible, trying to keep the lobes together in their original shape.

Assemble the tart: Remove the pastry and apple compote from the refrigerator and spread the compote in an even layer across the pastry and inside the sugared border. Working with one lobe at a time, fan out the apple slices and arrange them over the compote, tightly shingling (you may not use all of the apple slices). Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and combine with 2 tablespoons cider. Use a pastry brush to dab the butter mixture over the apple slices.

Bake the tart: Place the tart in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F. Bake the tart until the border is deeply browned and the apples are browned in spots, 40 to 55 minutes. Set the tart aside to cool.

Glaze and serve the tart: In a small saucepan, combine the jam and remaining 2 tablespoons cider and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any solids and then dab the jam mixture over the apples to glaze them. ③ Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

The apple compote, covered and refrigerated, will keep up to 1 week. The apple tart, covered loosely and stored at room temperature, will keep up to 3 days but is best served on the first or second day.

① If you’re using frozen puff pastry, let it thaw gently in the refrigerator overnight before using. I recommend Dufour brand, but any brand labeled “all-butter” will work. If your package of puff pastry contains two small sheets instead of one large, stack the sheets one on top of the other and roll out to the dimensions specified in the recipe.

② If the pastry starts to soften and adhere to the rolling pin, return it to the refrigerator for several minutes to firm up. Working with warm pastry will reduce your chances of getting a shatteringly flaky, tender crust.

③ Try not to drag the pastry brush across the apples when glazing. Use a dabbing motion instead, which creates a smoother finish and won’t disturb the apples.

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