I have been in a bit of a French funk since the weekend. These happen every so often, where I seem unable to distance myself from my french memories. I remember going to the markets and the market sellers pulling off a plastic bag, maybe wiping their hands on their apron and then saying in a deep, rolling voice, “Dites-moi, mademoiselle!” I remember learning to ski and mountainside chalets and vin chaud. I remember all the horrific mistakes I made while speaking French: the bumbling, awkward conversations where the other person folded their arms and quizzically repeated my butchered French. But then, I most dearly remember the conversations I had with people, who rather than rolling their eyes and sighing, “Les anglaises…” they said, “Ahhh, vous avez un accent…?” like they weren’t quite sure, like I could be from anywhere. I liked those moments the best. I remember wandering the streets of Bordeaux in the early spring heat with no money and no food and no one to share it with but as happy as I ever thought I could be.
I worked at a wedding on the weekend and the groom was french. It was a beautiful wedding and many of the guests were so excited and relieved that I could communicate with them. They were a lively lot, who smoked and drank and danced all night. They ate with enthusiasm, New Zealand lamb or groper, sampled our wines and cheese. And there was never any question over which was the red or the white wine glass, or whose side plate was whose, because eating is what they do so well. It made me miss France and all the wonderful people I met there.
So Tuesday afternoon, I pulled my tome of french cuisine from its shelf and thought une tarte aux pommes would ease my french blues. I put on my faux-french apron and made pâte brisée. The pastry was soft and smooth, enough to make you swoon, really. I peeled and finely sliced apples, arranging them in haphazard rows. Then covered the apples in a liberal dousing of sugar.
Upon cooking, the apples on the bottom stew and release their juices, while the apples on top became golden and slightly firm to the tooth. The texture changes as you bite through the apples and there are beautiful sing-song lifts of tart and sweet. But let’s not forget what holds this dessert together – the pastry. This pastry softly shatters beneath your teeth, but in a good way, like a buttery crumble. It adds another flavour dimension to this dessert; a little bit savoury, a little bit mealy.
Ideally I would be eating a slice of this with un café at the local salon du thé. But, then again, being able to share this tarte aux pommes with the people I care about here, in New Zealand, is just as wonderful, if not more so.
Tarte aux pommes classique
For the pastry:
200grams standard flour
100grams of butter (let the butter come to room temperature for an hour or so before using it)
2 1/2 tablespoons of water
Place the flour in a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the water and quickly work the dough together into a ball. It doesn’t have to be totally smooth, just as long as it is not very wet and mushy. If it is add a sprinkle more flour. Let the dough to rest at room temperature for at least a half hour. Roll the pastry on a floured work surface until it is about 4-5mm thick. Grease the tart pan, preferably round, unlike mine, and lay the pastry in the bottom.
For the apples:
5-6 apples suitable for cooking
100 grams sugar
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Pre-heat the oven to 180°. Peel the apples, remove the core and cut into quarters. Slice each quarter finely to create crescent-ish shapes. Lay the slices in rows, one on top of the other. Sprinkle with sugar. Place the tart in the oven and cook until golden brown and the juices bubble ever so slightly at the edges.
Mix the apricot jam with a dash of warm water and brush lightly over the apples once removed from the oven.
Serve warm with crème fraiche or thick yoghurt or vanilla ice cream.