Thursday 27 March 2008

Recipe: Apple & Vanilla Tart

For years, I've made Apple Tart in the traditional French fashion: concentric circles of apple slices, baked on top of a rich, thick purée of apples, lemon, cinnamon, butter and cognac. It's good - actually, it's very good - but it isn't a last-minute job, given the time needed to make the purée and to reduce it to the right consistency. This alternative version is lighter, and has the obvious merit of suiting those "Oh, God!....It's seven o'clock already and I've planned nothing for dessert!" occasions. From start to finish, this recipe takes half an hour - and fifteen minutes of that is elapsed time, when the tarts are in the oven, and you can be concentrating on something else.

But the merit of this recipe isn't just about saving time: the combination of flavours and textures is wonderful. The mixture of vanilla with butter and apple is knockout, and the soft, buttery apple slices inside a crisp, nutty tart shell.....excellent!

For four individual tarts.

Ingredients: 4 sheets of Phyllo Pastry, each 12" x 6"; 4 oz Butter; 4 level tablespoons of slivered Almonds; 2 Apples (something rustic and old-fashioned like Cox's or Renette Franche are good for this); 1 Vanilla Pod (or 1 teaspoon of good quality Vanilla Essence); 1 heaped tablespoon of Sugar; 1 tablespoon of Brandy or Rum.


1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

2. Melt half of the butter in a small pan, and proceed with making the tart shells: Grease the individual tart tins; brush the sheets of Phyllo with melted Butter, and cut each sheet in half, to give you two squares of pastry from each sheet, each one 6" x 6"; line the bottom of each tart tin with a square of pastry, tucked in around the edges, and over the top sprinkle a quarter of the slivered Almonds in each tart shell; finish with a second square of buttered Phyllo in each shell, again tucked in neatly around the edge. Blind-bake the shells in the pre-heated oven: five minutes with weights inside, and five with the weights removed. The shells should be a good rich colour when you take them out.
Reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees C.

2. Melt the remaining Butter in a small frying pan or sauté pan. Peel and core the Apples, and slice them very thinly - either by hand, if you can slice them paper-thin that way, or else with the use of a mandolin.

3. Add the sliced Apple to the pan and turn it in the melted Butter until well covered. Add the Vanilla (either the seeds scraped from the inside of the pod, or else the teaspoon of essence), as well as the Sugar, and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate everything thoroughly. Over a medium heat, cook the apple mixture, stirring occasionally, until the Apple slices are soft and almost translucent. This should take about ten minutes.

4. With a slotted spoon, remove the Apple slices from the pan and divide them between the four blind-baked tart shells. Return these to the oven for fifteen minutes - but keep an eye on them, to ensure they don't get too dark (if they do, remove them from the oven straightaway, and proceed to step 5).

5. Meanwhile, add the alcohol to the cooking juices in the pan, and heat through, stirring, to thicken and reduce the juices slightly. Two minutes before the end of cooking the tarts, spoon this liquid over the top of the four tarts, and then return them to the oven to finish cooking,

Allow to cool slightly before serving - these should be eaten warm rather than hot.

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