The house in France, I missed it dearly the last couple of years while living in the US. My parents own a stately home in a half deserted village in the French countryside. Once, it used to be the village school with one classroom and a school bell hanging in a small tower in the yard.
The house is surrounded by idyllic nature. On chilly mornings you’ll overlook the foggy valley behind the house with grazing cows. Last week, when fall was at its peak, we spent the weekend there. We watched the trees change colors, strolled alongside streams, crossed lush meadows and picked baskets full of apples and nuts.
We found the very best apples in Henriette’s overgrown orchard. For years Henriette was the oldest inhabitant of the village and a good friend of my parents. She passed away some time ago and her orchard and vegetable garden have been neglected since. Her beautiful apple trees are still producing a large crop though. Unfortunately, no one from the village could tell us exactly which apple variety we picked, but my mom knew they would make for a perfect French apple tart. So that’s what we did.
Action time: 40 minutes + 30 minutes resting + 35 minutes baking
9 oz/250 g spelt flour
1.5 oz/50 g fine cane sugar
4.5 oz/125 g cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1-2 tbsp ice cold water
For the compote:
3-4 big apples (like Empire)
2.5 oz /75 g fine cane sugar
a knob of butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping:
2-3 firm apples (like Gala)
a large knob of cold butter
2 tbsp honey or apricot jam*
25 g walnuts, coarsely chopped
Extra: food processor (optional), cling film, greased about 11 inch/ 28 cm tart pan with removable bottom, parchment paper, pie weights or dried beans, pastry brush
*We only had honey, but you can also use apricot jam. Apricot jam gives the apples a glossy glaze.
1. For the pastry, put flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (or use a food processor). Add the egg yolk and 1-2 tbsp cold water and knead briefly until the dough comes together. Gather the ball into a thick ‘sausage’, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
2. For the compote, peel the apples, cut them into wedges and cut the core off. In a pan, bring the apples with a dash of water, the sugar, butter, and vanilla to a boil. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the pieces can easily be broken apart with a wooden spoon. It’s okay if the compote is a little chunky, but use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother apple sauce, or if the pieces do not break apart at all.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Cut the dough sausage into 1/8 inch (3-4 mm) thick slices. Place the slices in and around the bottom and sides of the tart pan; push and press them together with your fingers until the whole pan is covered. Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with the pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes in the oven, remove the parchment paper and pie weights and bake for 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
4. Meanwhile peel the apples for the topping. Cut them into wedges and cut the cores off. Slice the wedges very thinly. Distribute the apple compote evenly in to the tart shell. Lay the apple slices slightly overlapping and in circles upon the compote. Cut the butter in very small cubes and dot it all over the tart.
5. Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Cover the crust with a strip of aluminium foil if the crust gets brown too fast.
6. Remove form the oven and let cool a little on a wire rack. In a small saucepan heat the honey until it becomes runny. Add the walnuts and stir. Brush the apple slices gently with the honey and divide the walnuts over the tart. Serve lukewarm or cold with unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche.