Apple-a-Pickin’

 

ERWIN ORCHARDS, SOUTH LYON, MICHIGAN

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On the last day of their visit here in Michigan, we took my parents to a local orchard run by the Erwin family in South Lyon. Erwin Orchards is a third-generation family farm located about 16 miles north of Ann Arbor with approximately 200 acres of fruit, including apples, raspberries, cherries and pumpkins. We tried some of their fresh-pressed, unpasteurized cider and we could see why it won the award for Best Apple Cider from the Michigan Horticultural Society four years in a row. And, according to their website, they are an environmentally friendly orchard, practicing Integrated Pest Management.

We arrived at the orchard less than two hours before closing time. Our friend John met up with us and we approached the window to purchase our 1/2 bushel bag to pick our own apples. I was looking forward to having my parents ride in the big wagon to the picking site. Sure, you may find it somewhat kitschy, but I think it’s fun nevertheless. Moreover, cider mills, wagons and tractors are not at all mundane to city dwellers like my parents and me.

 

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Alas, at this point in the season, the trees that still had fruit were within walking distance from the entrance; there was no need to take the wagon. Without me asking, an orchard employee, Dave, offered to drive us in the wagon anyway. Before taking us to the apple picking trees, he drove us all around the entire orchard first. It was like a private tour of their scenic orchard! I’m pleased to include his photo above; his gentle smile reminding me of our happy outing.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas soon approaching, there is a plethora of apple pie and apple tart recipes saturating our magazine, book and online media. Don’t you love that word – plethora? If you say it with a lisp, it’s even more fun – plethhhhhora.

Anyhow, it seems most recipes come with lofty guarantees – that it’s the best apple-baked-thing-you’ll-ever-taste; that it has a flaky, buttery crust that is both easy and practically effortless to make (ha!); and that upon eating it, you’ll find you’ve actually gone to pie heaven.

I can’t promise you this recipe for Normandy Apple Tart will result in any sort of earth-shaking, religious experience. But you can bet your Euro that it is delicious in a comforting, warm-blanket-and-toasty fireplace-way with its crumbly pâte sablée crust, topped with a rosy, homemade applesauce and buttery slices of Golden Delicious apples. As a bonus, I added some crème de marrons (chestnut cream) to the applesauce that my good friend Mrs. Ellen G. gifted to me. I’ve had this in my cupboard for a while now and I’m happy to have found a great way to use it. It added a nutty, sweet taste to the slightly tart applesauce.

The recipe I used comes from Dorie Greenspan’s latest book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. In France, these tarts are often made with Reinette or Boskoop apples, to which ground almonds or custard may be added. In her variation, Ms. Greenspan suggests making the tart with common American varieties like Golden Delcious, Cortland or Empire. She also suggests making the pâte sablée in a food processor. I prefer to use my good ol’ pastry cutter to prepare the crust. It takes me just as long to clean the food processor afterwards than to simply use the pastry cutter and blend the dough with my own hands. Do what you prefer.

As for the homemade applesauce, it’s not too much work as long as you have a good food mill. You can toss the cooked, quartered apples into the mill and it will purée the apples, while it also separates the peel and pits. If you don’t use a food mill, you’ll need to peel and core the apples before cooking them down to form an applesauce.

 

NORMANDY APPLE TART – LA TARTE NORMANDE

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

 

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FOR THE APPLESAUCE:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lbs. apples (in this case, Red and Golden Delicious)
  • 1/3 cup of water + more, if necessary
  • 1 small lump of rock sugar or 1 tsp. raw sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • crème de marrons

STEPS:

  • Cut and quarter the apples. Place them in a 2-3 qt. heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the water, sugar and salt. Cover with a lid.
  • Cook over med-low heat, stirring from time to time, for approximately 20-25 minutes. Apples should be soft enough to be mashed with a spoon.
  • Pass the apples through the food mill, into a bowl.
  • Add about 2 Tbl. of crème de marrons and stir to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.

 

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FOR THE PÂTE SABLÉE:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 9 Tbl. very cold, (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 9-inch tart pan

STEPS:

  • In a mixing bowl (preferably glass, ceramic or metal), thoroughly combine the flour, sugar and salt.
  • Using a pastry cutter, blend the butter pieces with the flour mixture. Blend until you get pea-sized bits.
  • Add the egg yolk and blend with a spoon or your hands until just combined, being careful not to overwork the dough.
  • Reserve a small piece of dough for patching up the tart crust, if needed.
  • Pour the dough onto the tart pan and press the dough into the pan and up the sides. (The crumbly nature of this dough makes it difficult to roll, but you can try if you like).
  • Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, butter side down, tightly against the crust.
  • Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and partially bake the crust (on the center rack) for about 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil and patch the crust with the reserved dough, if necessary.
  • Transfer the tart pan onto a cooling rack.

 

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(AND NOW FINALLY) FOR THE TOPPING:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium apples (preferably Golden Delicious)
  • homemade applesauce [see above recipe]
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1/2 tsp. water, for egg wash
  • 1/4 cup of apple jelly + 1 tsp. water, for the glaze (optional)

STEPS:

  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Peel the apples. Quarter them and remove the cores.
  • Cut thin slices from each of the quarters (about 7 slices).
  • Next, top the cooled tart crust with the applesauce and spread out in an even layer.
  • Top the applesauce with the apple slices – you can use whatever configuration fancies you. Perhaps a rosette pattern?
  • Brush the apples with the egg wash and bake for approx. 45-50 minutes. The apples should be golden, their edges slightly browned and soft enough to be pierced easily with a tip of a knife.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack.
  • Heat the apple jelly and water in a small sauce pan until liquefied. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the tart with the glaze.
  • Serve the tart warm or at room temperature.

 

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Bon appétit!