A Rustic American Apple Tart Recipe with a Crispy, Buttery Pie-Style Crust
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AMERICAN APPLE TART RECIPE
If you’re a fan of the classic apple pie, then you’re going to love this American apple tart recipe! Made like a French apple tart but with a flaky, buttery, rustic crust that is more like an apple pie. The best of both! It’s the perfect dessert to serve up during the fall season when apples are at their prime. With its buttery crust and fresh apple filling, this dessert is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or just looking for a delicious treat to enjoy at home, this recipe is easy to make and is sure to impress. We show you how to make this mouth-watering American apple tart recipe, step-by-step.
There’s nothing quite like a homemade tart. Making one is easier than you might think. With a few simple ingredients, you can create a delicious dessert that will have your family and friends raving. But there are some secrets to making a really good American apple tart. Making a great pastry crust is essential. A good crust should be flaky and buttery and hold up to the moist filling without getting soggy or falling apart. Whether you’re baking a classic apple pie or an American apple tart, a perfect pastry crust is key. The second important key is in choosing the correct apple variety. Apple varieties can be very different. Some are good for cider, some for apple sauce, and some for baking. So let’s start by choosing the best apples.
SELECTING THE BEST APPLES
Santa Cruz, California. Autumn. We are headed to apple country to look for apples for a rustic American style apple tart. Not many people think of Santa Cruz as an apple growing region, but apples are actually a very important crop in this area. Watsonville, the town at the south end of Santa Cruz County, is home to Martinelli’s, the sparkling apple cider company. So we don’t have to go far to shop local for apples.
The weather near the ocean gives this region the perfect climate for the variety of apples needed for cider, which are also good for making tarts. Some of the local farms in the area are open for a visit this time of year and sell apples at their stands. And that is a great excuse for a drive in the country.
Using a mixture of tart apples, such as Granny Smith, and sweeter apples, like Honeycrisp or Gala, creates a flavor balance that is perfect for an American apple tart. MacIntosh is also a good choice, and yellow delicious apples bake well and are easy to find.
BEST INGREDIENTS FOR THE CRUST
Even though we grew up with our Grandmothers making pies, we both prefer tarts. We like the ratio of fruit to crust, and the way an open faced tart bakes the fruit to a golden brown. Not having a top crust also cuts down on calories, making this a healthier dessert than pie. Because we are not trying to make a lattice work top crust, we can make an all-butter crust. Butter doesn’t hold an edge as well as shortening, so an all-butter top crust can look messy. But a crust that contains all butter and no vegetable shortening or lard, has an incredibly rich flavor. Even better, we brown the butter and add other flavors, so a vegetable shortening crust can’t compare. The crust is more like an American pie crust than a French tart cookie crust, so this is more of an American, or even rustic tart. The French have an equivalent crust called a pate brisée, or broken pastry, because it is flaky. The technique to making this is called frisée, which blends the butter into the flour in a smearing motion to create layers. The downside is that making a tart instead of a pie means there is no beautiful lattice crust on top, but we arrange the fruit in an overlapping pattern that makes the tart look good.
This is an all butter crust with half of the butter browned, to give the crust a richer taste. I brown the butter ahead of time and then store it in the refrigerator to harden it up. Browning it removes some of the water, and the water is needed to form a little gluten in the flour to keep the crust together, so I add some liquid back by adding some maple syrup. The maple syrup adds flavor and sweetness as well as the required liquid.
It’s important to have a dough that is wet enough to be rolled out, but not too much or it will be tough. Adding some alcohol to the dough makes rolling the pie dough easier and then it evaporates to leave the crust crispy. We choose an alcohol that adds flavor as well, but the flavor must be appropriate for the pie. For this apple tart we use bourbon. Rum or calvados would also be a good choice, but any alcohol that is around 80 proof will work.
Preparing the dough can make or break your recipe. It’s important to follow the instructions closely and use the right ingredients in the right proportions. The most crucial aspect is to work with cold butter and ice-cold water so that the dough doesn’t become too soft or sticky. Make sure to chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour before rolling it out to achieve a tender and flaky texture. You want to handle the dough as little as possible while rolling it out. With the right method, you can expect a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth crust to be the perfect base for your juicy, cinnamon-laced apple filling.
To make the filling, simply mix peeled and thinly sliced apples with sugar, cinnamon, and a bit of lemon juice. The ingredients that are added to the fruit may need to be adjusted depending on the size of the fruit and the sweetness. Then layer the apples in a circular pattern, overlapping slightly. Not only will this give you an even distribution of the fruit throughout your tart but it will create an aesthetically pleasing presentation. Finally, dot the top with butter and sprinkle with sugar.
There you have it – your delicious recipe is ready to be baked! Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a truly delicious treat.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND MAKING A GREAT PASTRY CRUST
THE SCIENCE BEHIND MAKING A GREAT PASTRY CRUST
To make a great pastry crust, it is important to understand a little of the science. There are very few ingredients, so there is less room for error, which is why measuring accurately is so necessary. And because there are so few ingredients, each ingredient has a key roll, and using the best of each ingredient will make a big difference.
CHOOSE THE BEST INGREDIENTS
USE THE BEST INGREDIENTS – The brands we have listed will let you make a great pastry crust every time. They not only taste better but production of each is controlled so the product is consistent. The size of the sugar crystal, the amount of protein in the flour, the shape of the salt – all these things will affect the way the crust bakes. Little differences in the ingredients can lead to a big difference in the crust.
GOLD MEDAL UNBLEACHED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR – has a lower protein amount than some all purpose flours – 10.5 percent protein. This is a good flour for baking a pastry crust that you want to be more tender. In addition, the company ensures that the protein content is carefully calibrated, so you get consistent results. Also, it is important to use the unbleached flour.
KING ARTHUR UNBLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR – has a slightly higher protein amount than Gold Medal all purpose flour – 11.7 percent protein. It is good for baking crusts that are a little more hearty and need some substance, which the higher protein provides. King Arthur is an employee-owned company that responsibly sources the wheat for their flours, and it pays off in the taste and quality. They have a “never bleached” guarantee, which means their flours don’t have an off taste or unpredictable results that can be caused by bleaching. They also carefully calibrate the protein content, which means the flour gives you the same results, every time you bake.
We use Wholesome organic sugar, because it is produced from sugar cane fields that are green cut and are not burned or treated with herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Burning sugar cane fields contributes to air pollution and climate change, and is a major cause of the destruction of the rain forest. Buying sugar from fields that are green cut helps prevent this destruction. The sugar also has a better taste because of how it is produced, but mostly we use it because it is a sustainable choice. It is more expensive than buying the standard brands, but the difference is only a few cents per recipe, so it’s worth it. We also save money by buying this in bulk direct from the company and storing it in jars in the pantry. Instead of buying brown sugar, we add some molasses or sorghum syrup to a recipe, since brown sugar is just sugar with molasses added. This saves money, since brown sugar is more expensive than white sugar, and it saves storage.
Heilala produces the best tasting vanilla we have ever tried. Plus, it is ethically produced. We double the amount of vanilla usually called for to add extra flavor. Vanilla extract is usually half alcohol and half water, so the extra vanilla can add back some of the liquid that was removed when browning the butter.
We like the quality of Diamond Kosher salt and don’t want the iodine taste. The weight and structure of salt varies between brands so it is important to choose a salt and stick with it to be consistent.
Using browned butter, or buerre noistte as it is known in France, adds a huge amount of flavor to baked goods. We use Horizon Organic butter to make browned butter. We think Horizon products taste better than any other dairy products we have tried. This is probably because the products are organic and from family farming partners. Just as important, Horizon is a certified B corporation that has committed to becoming carbon positive across their entire supply chain by 2025.
METHOD FOR MAKING PASTRY CRUSTS
USE A SCALE AND MEASURE IN GRAMS – Use a scale to measure all the ingredients by weight. This is absolutely essential. The inaccuracies from using measuring cups can easily lead to failure when baking. Different brands of flour and sugar will be different when measured with measuring cups, and not all measuring cups are accurate either. But measuring by weight is the same every time. Measuring by weight is also much easier – just put the mixing bowl on the scale, zero the scale, add an ingredient, zero the scale again, add the next ingredient, and so on. Measuring in grams is more accurate because it is a smaller, more precise measurement than an ounce or pound. Also, grams are often easy numbers to remember, making it possible to make the pastry crust without looking at the written recipe and easy to compare recipes. Clean up is easier, since there will be fewer bowls and no measuring cups and to clean up. And cooking with children is easier because they quickly learn how to add ingredients until the scale reads the correct amount.
REFRIGERATE THE DOUGH – This allows the flour to absorb the liquid in the dough and hardens up the butter.
USE AN OVEN THERMOMETER – Use an oven thermometer to check the oven temperature before putting the cookies in. The temperature of ovens vary, and may not be the temperature on the dial.
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Photos by Tony Fitzgerald Photography