Saturday 2 February 2008

Recipe: Apple Tart from the Aosta Valley

A typical example of the sort of dish where the origins probably date far back - this one includes both honey and bitter orange, which to me suggests a recipe of venerable age. The preferred apples in this instance are Renette Franche, one of the oldest and grandest of apples, which can still be found in quantity in the Aosta Valley; small and intensely flavoured, these are traditionally the sort of apples that would be picked before being entirely ripe and then stored in an apple loft for consumption through the winter months. A Cox's pippin is a good substitute, and if you can't find those, then opt for something like 'Gala' or 'Pink Lady' instead - you want an apple that will cook through but still retain its shape, rather than going to mush. Above all, avoid anything like Golden Delicious, which is merely sweet and pappy!

For one 26 cm diameter Tart.

Ingredients: 6-10 apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (if the apples are quite large, you'll probably need only five in practice); 2 bitter Oranges (or, if bitter Oranges aren't available, use 1 normal Orange plus 1 Lemon, instead, along with a couple of tablespoons of any orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier); 120g clear Honey; Shortcrust Pastry, made with 8 oz Butter, 10 oz Plain Flour, a pinch of Salt, and 50 ml of Cold Water; 1 Egg White, beaten with a fork just to break it up.


1. Make the Pastry as follows (best done the day before you want to use it, to allow it to rest sufficiently in the fridge before being rolled out):

- Freeze the butter in the freezer until it is rock hard. This is imperative.
- Grate the butter straight from the freezer using the grater disc on the food processor; add the remaining dry ingredients to the processor bowl and process using the blade until it has resolved itself into large flakes.
- Add water in very small increments through the top opening, whilst the processor is running. Be very careful not to add too much.
- As soon as enough water has been added, the mixture will form itself into one large solid lump and will adhere to the blade as it goes round. Stop the processor at this point.
- Remove the pastry from the bowl and perform the fraisage - using just the heel of your palm, push the mixture six inches or so across the work surface in half a dozen or so bite-sized pieces, then gather them back together into a ball and wrap in cling film. Only do the fraisage once - the success of good pastry lies in limiting contact with your hands to a bare minimum, as otherwise the heat from your hands will cause the butter to melt within the pastry, and it will lose its shape as it cooks.
- Preferably leave the pastry to rest in the fridge for 24 hours before rolling it out for use - again, this allows it to relax, and reduces the risk of it sliding out of shape or shrinking as it cooks.

2. Once the Pastry has rested, use 2/3 of it to roll out and line the base and sides of a greased 26cm spring-form tin; prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork and let it rest again in the fridge for about half an hour.

3. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

4. Meanwhile, combine in a pan the Honey, chopped Apples, and either the rind and juice of the 2 bitter Oranges, or else the rind and juice of the Orange and Lemon, along with the Orange Liqueur. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the apple is cooked through - this should take about twenty minutes or so.

5. Line the tart shell with a piece of foil, weight it and blind-bake it, ten minutes with the weights in and another ten minutes after they've been removed, to get a crisp and golden base to the tart.

6. Spread the Apple mixture in the tart shell. Roll out the remaining pastry, and use it to make a lattice over the Apple filling. Brush the lattice with Egg White, and bake for 30 minutes in the pre-heated oven.

Serve warm or cold, with either vanilla ice cream or a spoonful of Crême Chantilly (cream beaten stiffly with a little vanilla essence and icing sugar)

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