Sunday, October 6, 2013

Flakey apple tarts

They're so flaky and delicious -- when I took these out of the oven, I felt like I was staring at something from a fancy pastry shop in Paris! Okay, they'd be much prettier if made by an ACTUAL pastry chef, but, their flakiness is nothing short of divine!
The weather wasn't particularly beautiful today in Davisburg, but the farmer's market went on nonetheless! I demonstrated this recipe for apple tarts; their flaky crust left mouths happy.

I have to credit my friend, Annette, for sharing her pie crust recipe and teaching me how to make such a lovely and delicious pastry! I adapted the apple filling recipe from that for apple pie out of a Betty Crocker cookbook.

The recipe is simple in terms of its ingredients, but technique is key. Having the right tools on hand will facilitate success (flaky crust). It's good to have a vision of the whole process before starting, to foster efficiency. Give yourself two hours to make four dozen tarts (if you finish a bit early, brew up that coffee to enjoy along with your freshly-baked, flaky tarts).

If you are experienced with pastry-making, then feel free to skip straight down to the recipe. For those of you who want some tips for perfecting your crusts, or are beginning, the following tips and explanations should set you up for success. (Remember, practice makes perfect ;)

Tips and technique
For best results, be sure that your lard (and/or butter) are refrigerated for a few hours prior to making the pastry; leave it/them in the fridge until ready for use. COLD is key!!

Before you dive in to baking, round up your tools:
  • Pastry cutter
  • Marble slab or cutting board, or marble/granite/travertine counter top
  • Marble rolling pin
  • Apple corer/slicer (or knife)
  • Peeler
  • Mini-muffin pans/tart pans (enough for four dozen)
  • A two or four cup volume is sufficient. Ultimately, you'll use 1/3 - 1/2 C water (estimate -- I've never paid attention to the precise quantity)
  • A pyrex measuring cup (or other decanter) filled with ice + water (heavy on the ice)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Soup spoon
  • Butter knife
  • Small, glass container
  • Food scale (or 1 C measures for dry and wet)
Now, here's a high-level overview of the process for making these delectable tarts:
1. Prepare pastry
2. Let set for 10 minutes -- pull out tools and ingredients for filling
3. Place pastry in the fridge for thirty minutes -- prepare filling, preheat oven
4. Remove pastry from fridge
5. Create tarts in muffins pans
6. Bake -- start cleaning up that mess!
7. Cool and serve

On to prepping and baking!!

1 pound (3 + 3/4 C) all-purpose flour (keep the bag of flour handy for later)
1/4 pound (1/2 C) lard
1/4 pound (1/2 C) butter
Pyrex measuring cup (or other decanter) filled with ice + water (heavy on the ice)

Feel free to use 1/2 pound lard, or 1/2 pound butter, if you prefer. I think the half-and-half combo of each (per the ingredient list) makes the best crust.

  1. Place 1 pound of flour in a large mixing bowl
  2. Remove the lard and/or butter from the fridge -- measure it and place it in the bowl with the flour
  3. Use a pastry cutter to cut the pastry into the flour. Go slowly, and do not overwork the mixture. Use a knife or fork to scrape the mixture that gathers on the pastry cutter. Continue cutting until the lard/butter chunks are pea-sized. Err on the side of too big rather than too small
  4. Pour a small amount of water (2-3 tbsp) over the mixture. Using a fork, start pulling from the edge of the bowl into the center, slowly, and turn the bowl, repeating the whole way around. Once the water has been absorbed, add another few tablespoons. (I use a fork while pouring to prevent the ice from falling into the pastry.) When a ball starts to form in the center of the bowl (or rather, when the mixture starts to adhere to itself), stop. Err on the side of too dry rather than too wet
  5. Gently gather mixture together by pressing it together with your hands -- just two or three gentle squeezes will do
  6. It's best to flour your surface prior to turning out the pastry onto it
  7. Turn the mixture out onto a marble slab. If it falls apart, assess whether it seems too dry in the middle. You can drizzle another few tablespoons of water if needed. 
  8. Choose a cool part of your kitchen to work (i.e. avoid working directly next to the oven)
  9. Gently press the mixture together, if needed. Cover with the bowl, and leave the pastry set, on the counter, for ten minutes                                    
  10. After ten minutes have passed, place the "ball" of pastry back into the bowl, cover the bowl (with a towel, plastic, or lid), and place in fridge for thirty minutes
  11. Make the filling while waiting for the pastry to chill 
Apple filling
6 C apples, peeled, cored, diced into small chunks (pea-sized)
1/2 - 2/3 C sugar (or honey)
1 tsp cinnamon (or more, to taste)
2 tbsp butter, melted
pinch of salt
Add other spices, such as allspice or nutmeg, to taste, if preferred (I prefer not)

  1. Assuming that your pastry is resting, covered, in the fridge, go ahead and preheat the oven to 425F
  2. Mix all apple filling ingredients together in a medium-size bowl; combine thoroughly
  3. Let the mixture set out on the counter while working with the pastry to fill the tart pans
Create the tarts
  1. Sprinkle a generous layer of flour over the marble slab
  2. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Gently remove and place about one-fourth of the pastry onto the marble slab. Cover the remaining pastry and return to fridge
  3. Gently but firmly press down on the pastry to form it and spread it out slightly, in preparation for rolling
  4. Sprinkle the top of pastry with flour
  5. Start in the center, and use the rolling pin to work the pastry out in one direction (somewhat gently). Return to the center and roll the other side out
  6. Gently lift the pastry and flip it over -- if it seems to be stuck, use a butter knife to release the pastry from the slab. Sprinkle more flour
  7. Sprinkle a but more flour on top, and roll it out a bit more. The thinner the better, but not so thin that it's difficult to handle. If it's your first time making pastry, err on the side of thick -- it just may turn out more chewy than crispy
  8. Caution: avoid balling up the pastry and "starting again" -- the more it's worked, the less flaky (and more chewy) the crust will be after baking
  9. Don't worry too much about clean edges -- it won't matter much once you fill the tart and fold the pastry and pinch it together)
  10. Cut the pastry into 2.5-3 inch squares
  11. These are a bit thicker than optimal
  12. Place squares into the muffin pan (I find it easier to start filling the inside spaces of the pan and working outward), leaving the pastry draped outward (you'll want to fold it over top of the filling). Continue until you are out of pastry
  13. Spoon apple filling into the pastry -- it should be at least level with the top of the pan
  14. I haven't perfected the aesthetic yet, but they taste fantastic!
  15. Fold the edges of the pastry in to the center, and pinch together gently. 
  16. Repeat steps 1-12 until all of the pastry has been used or you run out of muffin pans!
  17. Place pans into the pre-heated oven, and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. If you decide to use regular cupcake-size pans instead of mini's, they may need 45 minutes or more to cook fully
  18. Remove from oven and let cool for twenty minutes
  19. Remove from muffin pans -- they should pop right out, unless some of the filling oozed out at the seams, in which case I like to use a butter knife to release the tart from the pans
  20. Enjoy!
Vegan potential: use margarine or palm shortening (instead of butter and/or lard).

Storage: they should freeze/defrost well -- store in Ziplok bags, and allow to defrost on the counter.