It feels like it’s been forever since I baked from a good old-fashioned, paper-bound cookbook, and I forgot how much I missed the feel of those pages. Unless you’re unreasonably careful, cookbooks always share reminders of their use, and all those drips of batter and smears of butter across flour-speckled pages remind the book that it is, indeed, loved. Flour is easily wiped from the face of my iPad (thank goodness!), but my cookbooks take a beating. I dare say they might be better for it.
The cookbook from which this recipe is adapted, The Cook and the Gardener, is one that I’ve had in my collection for nearly two years now but that has sat rather still amidst all the business bustling around it. The book is by Amanda Hesser, and basically it captures the stories and recipes that came from a year of living in the French countryside. It’s a good one, and the recipe is a good one, too. Although baking these adorable tartlettes is actually quite simple (both the methods and ingredients are of the back-to-basics sort), they end up looking like something that might belong in the front of a sweet little bakery. A French bakery, peut-être? J’espère bien!
Caramelized Apple Tartlettes
Adapted from The Cook and the Gardener (Hesser, p. 427)
For the pâte sucrée (crust):
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
• pinch of salt
• 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• ½ cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
For the filling:
• 6 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 7 to 8 crisp apples (Honeycrisp, Granny Smith or whatever else you like), peeled, cored and quartered
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
• flour for rolling out the pâte sucrée
• homemade whipped cream (optional)
To make the pâte sucrée: In the large bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt, and pulse a few times to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk and vanilla, then add it to the flour mixture. Add the butter cubes, too, and pulse to incorporate the eggs and butter, just until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and knead it for a minute or two until it’s smooth (careful not to overwork it!). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
To make the filling: In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars and cinnamon. Melt the butter in a large iron skillet or cast-iron pot over medium heat. Add the apples, cut side up, and sprinkle them with the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Let the apples cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until they just start to become soft and begin to color. Be sure to turn them from time to time so they cook evenly. Once they’re cooked, remove them from the heat, and allow them to cool.
Divide the pâte sucrée into four equal pieces, and roll each piece out on a lightly floured surface into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough circles to four 4-inch tartlette molds, and press the dough firmly into them and up the sides. Run a rolling pin over top of the molds to cut off the excess dough, and save it for another use. Allow the dough-lined molds to chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F, and place a rimmed baking sheet on the center rack. When the apples are cool and the dough has chilled, place the apples in the tartlette shells, and pile them until they form a soft mound. You should fit about 6 to 8 apple quarters into each. Press them in firmly so the apple mound isn’t more than ½ to ¾ inch higher than the rim. Spoon any extra sauce from the pan around the apples (it should come up to nearly the top of the tartlette molds).
Place the tartlettes on the baking sheet, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is cooked and the apples are caramelized. Remove them from the oven, then use potholders to place a baking sheet over the top of the tartlettes. Press the baking sheet down to condense the tartlettes, until the apples are nearly level with the rims of the molds. Some juices will spill over the sides. Allow the tartlettes to cool for a little while with the baking sheet on top. Then, carefully lift off the baking sheet on top, and lift the tartlettes off the other baking sheet. Allow the tartlettes to cool for another 10 minutes, then carefully push them out of their molds and place them on a baking rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.