My husband likes to joke that every other comment on this site in the month of October is, “Help! I went apple picking and I brought home 20 pounds of apples and I don’t know how to use them up!” It’s not true, of course; it’s every five or six comments. We mostly have a giggle about it because we didn’t know how one could go to an apple grove and not realize that 20 pounds of apples is an impossible amount to munch your way through, no matter how enthusiastic of an apple-eater you might be. Furthermore, seeing as quite often, only one apple type is ripe at a time, you’re not likely even bringing a mix home that might sustain your interest from apple to apple, ad inifinitum. So, you know where this is going. Guys, we went apple picking last weekend and I brought home almost 15 pounds of apples! What do I do with them?
I am kidding, mostly. I have a few ideas for them. The first 6 pounds went to the largest batch of applesauce, ever, half of which is in the freezer for my resident Applesauce Junkie. The next few pounds were munched on, happily. A few pounds are on the table in a bowl, though I think Ramona Quimby must have snuck in because I keep noticing single, tiny bites taken out of each (because the first bite is the tastiest). Next, well, this happened. And once this happens, I think you’re going to be glad you have a bunch of pounds of apples left, because this is the kind of stuff that calls for a repeat performance.
Are you taking submissions for your new favorite dead simple fall dessert? I understand that competition in this arena is pretty fierce. I’ve already shared Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls this month, and I don’t expect you to throw them over so quickly in the Winning October Bellies and Minds race. If it helps, you can relegate them to the breakfast category. Of course, that still leaves the Simplest Apple Tart. But every five or so years, well, I think there should be a new simple apple tart in town, and I think it should be this one.
This tart is, in essence, a French apple tart, a simple affair involving puffed pastry, thin slices of apples fanned this way and that before they are dotted with butter, sprinkled with sugar and baked in the oven until they solder together into an puddled-apple-butter-caramel fusion that is entirely greater than the sum of its parts. The only places I take issue with these tarts is in their linear approach to apples (I prefer, and consider it futile to resist, the stunning look and fanning pattern of Lady M’s Apple Tapestry Tart) and in the finishing step, where a little jam (usually apricot or something chosen for its light color, but never its flavor harmony with the fruit below it) is melted to form a glaze that is brushed over the tart after it finishes baking. Apricot jam has no place on my apples. Surely, I reasoned, there are other ways to melt sugar into a glaze, maybe even a deeply cooked, caramelized one with coppery burnt sugar notes and a bit of sea salt and maybe if you let it bake into the apples for a few final minutes in the oven something really wonderful would happen and…
The result is a mosaic of fall apple bliss. Here’s where I’m supposed to say “You won’t believe how good just puffed pastry, apples, butter, sugar and salt can taste together,” but friends, I think you would believe me, that you do, you get it. And that is exactly why you have to make this this weekend.
Two years ago: Cauiliflower and Parmesan Cake
Three years ago: Apple Cider Doughnuts
Four years ago: Meatballs and Spaghetti and Molly’s Apple Tarte Tatin
Five years ago: Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Six years ago: Wild Mushroom Galette
Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel
Puffed pastry is a wonderful thing to keep around in your freezer. It comes at all price points, but I do think that the best ones contain only butter, not shortening. DuFour is my favorite brand; it is an investment that you will be able to taste in every bite and this is the kind of tart where you’ll really be able to tell. If you buy some for this recipe, buy two. You’ll thank me next week, when you need to make it again.
Be ye not intimidated by homemade caramel. I promise, it can be so simple. You don’t need water, corn syrup, a pastry brush or exclamation point-ed nerve-wracking admonitions to not stir. You just put some sugar in an empty saucepan, turn the heat up and wait a few minutes. It will melt; it always does.
Note: The caramel glaze is not like a caramel sauce you would put on ice cream. Those will have more cream in them, to keep them thin. I was going for a firmer one, soft only when melted, and with as clean of a color as possible (not muddied by extra cream). For a traditional salted caramel sauce, use this recipe. For a slightly thinner salted caramel syrup (amazing on pancakes or crepes), use this.
Serves 12 (It should be sliced like this earlier version, not the final one I hastily photographed here.)
14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted in fridge overnight
3 large or 4 medium apples (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits
Salted caramel glaze
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or half as much table salt)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Heat your oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Ideally you would use a 10×15-inch jelly roll pan, as I do here. A smaller pan will make a thicker tart (and you might need fewer apples). In a larger pan, you can still fit a 10×15-inch tart, which I think is the ideal size here.
Lightly flour your counter and lay out your pastry. Flour the top and gently roll it until it fits inside your baking sheet, and transfer it there. Try not to roll it any bigger than you’ll need it, or you’ll have to trim, which means you’ll have to sprinkle the trimmings with cinnamon-sugar and bake them into cookie-sized segments for snacks. And that would be terrible.
Peel the apples and cut them in half top-to-bottom. Remove the cores and stems (I like to use a melon baller and/or a pairing knife). Slice the apples halves crosswise as thinly as you can with a knife, or to about 1/16-inch thickness with a mandoline. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, fan the apples around the tart in slightly overlapping concentric rectangles — each apple should overlap the one before so that only about 3/4-inch of the previous apple will be visible — until you reach the middle. Sprinkle the apples evenly with the first two tablespoons of sugar then dot with the first two tablespoons butter.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are brown and the edges of the apples begin to take on some color. If you sliced your apples by hand and they were on the thicker side, you might need a little more baking time to cook them through. The apples should feel soft, but dry to the touch. If you puffed pastry bubbles dramatically in any place during the baking time, simply poke it with a knife or skewer so that it deflates. This is fun, I promise.
Meanwhile, about 20 minutes into the baking time, make your glaze. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt your last 1/4 cup sugar; this will take about 3 minutes. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice copper color, another minute or two. Off the heat, add the sea salt and butter and stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Add the heavy cream and return to the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until you have a lovely, bronzed caramel syrup, just another minute, two, tops. Set aside until needed. You may need to briefly rewarm it to thin the caramel before brushing it over the tart.
After the tart has baked, transfer it to a cooling rack, but leave the oven on. Using very short, gentle strokes, and brushing in the direction that the apples fan to mess up their design as little as possible, brush the entire tart, including the exposed pastry, with the salted caramel glaze. You might have a little leftover. Whatever you do, do not spread it on a sliced apple for a snack. Trust me.
Return the apple tart to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the caramel glaze bubbles. Let tart cool complete before cutting into 12 squares. Serve plain, with coffee or tea, if you’re feeling grown-up or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent.