Apple Rose Tart

WHAT A WEEK, MAN. That is my only comment on the second week of November. This is a post free of political conversation. Breathe, guys.

I'm not one of those "I've been baking since I can remember" culinary types. That is, unless you count the dozen times I spent sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter scooping chocolate chip cookies onto a pan with my Mom. We always made the cookie recipe from the back of the bag of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips. I used to get really excited to make these for three reasons. One - I got to nibble on straight brown sugar while my mom measured out the ingredients (a boring time for a six year old). Two - It was the one and only times I was granted permission to sit on the kitchen counter. What a powerful feeling. Three - The reward for scooping all of the cookies onto the pan was licking the spoon, bowl, and beaters clean until my tummy hurt. Someone once told me that if I ate too much cookie dough, a cookie would bake inside my stomach. That has yet to happen.

Until I was fourteen, Nestle chocolate chip cookies were all I knew. The first thing I ever made aside from cookies was a cappuccino cake using a recipe on the back of a box of gifted cappuccino powder that was stored in the back of my parent's pantry from who knows how many Christmases ago. After making this cake once a week for a month until I perfected it, I graduated onto other recipe. These were all found on the back of a 5lb. bag of flour, a carton of buttermilk, a box of cornmeal, etc. I would empty out an entire bag of sugar into tupperware just so I could cut out the recipe from the bag and store it in a photo album that I liked to call my 'recipe book'. I did this until my Dad came home from work one day with two of these wild things called cookbooks. An entire collection of recipes that I didn't have to dissect a container for!? Now that's cool.

I buried my head into those books and made almost every recipe. They are probably responsible for much of my pre-culinary school baking knowledge. Many of my parent's co-workers put on weight that year; I take full responsibility.

Come the holidays, I found myself in charge of something more than just setting the table to my Nana's high standards. Is it fork on the right, knife on the left? I still can't remember. I passed the table setting torch to my younger brother (sorry dude) and became the pie maker. (If you've read this far into the post, I applaud you. This is where it all comes together and you stop wondering why the heck I'm talking about Nestle chocolate chip cookies in an apple rose tart recipe post).

I absolutely love making pie. Rolling out dough, making the filling, decorating the top. These are all my favorite things to do, especially around the holidays. I never get tired of weaving a lattice top. I think it's one of the most therapeutic baking activities (that and piping).

Holiday pie season has returned. I'd like to kick it off with this apple rose tart, a cousin to our typical apple pie. A tart is simply a more delicate version of pie. It's crust is thinner and it's baked in a fluted tin from which it's later removed from to showcase the tart's outer beauty. Due to the delicacy of the crust, tarts are filled with "firmer" fillings, in this case, pastry cream. They are also known to be creatively decorated. I think Jenni Field hits the nail on the head with her comparison of pies vs. tarts. She says, "Regular American non-steroidal pies are sedans: ample, but not showy, sensible. Tarts are European sports cars: the perfect marriage of form and function delivered in a relatively small, precision package." There you have it, folks.

This tart is a show-off, there's no doubt about that. It's dressed in a smidgen of apple jelly and delicate cinnamon pastry cream and covered in pretty little apple roses. If this tart were a sports car, it would be a red Lotus Evora 400. Scroll down and I'll tell you how to make a tart that I actually compared to a $94,000 British automobile.

Apple Rose Tart
Yield: one 9" tart
Tart crust adapted from smittenkitchen, pastry cream adapted from thekitchn

for the crust-
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup almond meal*
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
- 1 egg

for the cinnamon pastry cream-
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

for the apple roses-
- 4 medium, firm apples
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 fresh lemon

additional ingredients-
- 3 tablespoons apple jelly (optional)
- granulated sugar for topping

  1. Begin by making the crust. Combine flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into very small pieces. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until  it resembles small clumps. Crack the egg into a small bowl and beat to break up the yolk. Add to the pie dough and mix with your hands until a pliable dough forms. Flatten the dough into a disc, wrap with plastic, and place in the fridge while you make the pastry cream.
  2. To make the pastry cream, heat the milk with the cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a scald. Do not let the milk boil. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, and egg yolks together in a medium bowl.  Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk. Add a small amount of hot milk to the egg yolk mixture while whisking. Continue to whisk (seriously, don't stop whisking or your eggs will scramble*) while adding the remainder of the hot milk to the mixture. Then, add everything back into the saucepan and place back over medium heat. Whisk constantly while the mixture thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Once the pastry cream starts to bubble, quickly turn the heat off and strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a bowl. Place the bowl over an ice bath and let cool. Once the cream has cooled, stir in the vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. 
  3. Roll out the chilled tart crust and place into a greased tart pan. Poke the crust well with a fork. Place the crust in the freezer for 20 minutes before baking. Then, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Then, remove from the oven and let cool. 
  4. Spread a thin layer of apple jelly over the bottom of the pie crust (optional). Then, fill the crust with the cooled pastry cream. 
  5. Slice the apples as thin as possible. A mandolin is very helpful for this step. Fan out the apple slices on a plate and sprinkle with granulated sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover the plate of apples with plastic wrap and "bake" the apples in a microwave for 1 minute. Check to see if the apples are flexible enough to roll up like a yoga mat. If not, microwave again in 30 second intervals until they are. Then, let them cool for a few minutes to re-absorb the juice. 
  6. Time for apple roses! Roll a slice of apple tightly, like I said before, "a yoga mat." This is the center of the rose. Place the center in the pastry cream and hold it there with one hand while you use your other hand to wrap apple petals around the center. Each apple petal should start halfway around the last. Continue adding petals until the rose looks full. Then, repeat until the tart is covered with apple roses. Fill in the small gaps with small roses or "buds." 
  7. Sprinkle the tart with granulated sugar for some shine. Take a photo of your tart for Instagram....then dig in! 
* almond meal can be made by grinding almonds into a powder using a food processor. 
* don't fret if your pastry cream turns out a little chunky, that's why we strain it, to make it smooth.

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© A Little Baker
Maira Gall