Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spiced up apple pie

A friend at work is having a birthday, and she happens to love apple pie. So I offered to bring in a pie for our office's afternoon coffee break tomorrow.

I'm a little bored with basic apple pie, so I looked through Epicurious recipes for a fresh idea. Now, my friend is not too adventurous, so I didn't want to get too fancy or exotic. I came upon a recipe that I first dismissed, because it included some interesting spices. But I kept coming back to it. All the comments - 4 pages of them - mentioned how delicious it was. Yes, they talked about how much trouble it was to make, and how time-consuming, too, but even so, everyone raved about how delicious it was.

So...I decided to go ahead and make this Country Apple Tart with Spiced Brown Butter.

The recipe recommends using a 10" springform pan. My springform pan is 9", so I figured I would have enough leftovers to make a little tart for [The Man I Love] and I to enjoy at home, too.

Although I've perfected my favorite butter pastry recipe, I decided to follow the directions for the pastry in this recipe, which included sugar and two egg yolks.

And there was the first problem. According to the recipe, first you combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter, then add the two egg yolks and the mixture will come together in moist clumps.

No, it didn't.

Fortunately, I am now pretty confident about working ice-water into pastry flour until it's workable so I just followed that routine by hand and soon had a good dough that hung together and rolled out nicely. I lined my springform pan and a small tart pan with the dough, and blind-baked it for 10 minutes.

The recipe then called for up to 15 apples to be peeled, cored and quartered. 15 apples? That sounded like a lot! My apples were pretty big, so when they were quartered, the pieces seemed pretty big. I cut the quarters in half, making eighths, and then cut those eighths in half crosswise, making chunks.

You toss the apple chunks in butter and lemon juice and then roast them in a 400 degree oven. After they cool a bit, you put them into the tart shells. The irregular chunks of apple hold their shapes and give the tart a rustic, country feel.

Next, you make a brown butter, and infuse it with vanilla bean, star anise, cloves and cinnamon bark.

Brown butter is a wonderful thing. You melt butter over low heat and cook it, carefully, until the milk solids in the butter begin to brown. The result is a rich nutty flavor that adds an extra dimension to your dish. You can infuse the butter with herbs, or - in this case - spices. It takes about 20 minutes to get the butter nicely browned, and you have to be careful, because it can burn in a matter of seconds.

While keeping a close eye on the butter, I whisked two eggs with some flour and sugar to create a custard. No milk or cream was called for. Good for any dairy-phobic friends at the office. I departed from the recipe only in one way - I added the two reserved egg whites leftover from the crust. I cannot bear to throw them away.

The brown butter was strained into the custard (to exclude the chunks of spices), and whisked up to combine. Then the mixture was poured over the apples in the tarts.

As they baked (1 hour at 350 degrees), the kitchen was suffused with the scent of the spices, especially the vanilla bean.

I have to confess, I'm somewhat of a short-cut cook. I generally don't deal with whole spices - I have ground spices and vanilla extract, and figure it all tastes the same. But since I had to buy star anise anyway, and Cost Plus had a buy-two-get-one-free, I bought a packet holding two vanilla beans and tried - for once in my life - to follow the recipe correctly. The scent of fresh vanilla from a bean is pretty awesome.

While the tarts baked - on a foil-lined cookie sheet, as advised in the directions - I noticed butter oozing from the bottoms of the pans. With a stick and a half of butter in the crust and a stick used in the filling (halved, for two tarts), this recipe is all about the butter.

Here's the smaller tart, the one that's staying home.

And here's a slice served with vanilla ice cream. Tasty.

Visit for the recipe.


smalltownme said...

Oh my, I wish I could smell it. It looks wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Smell-o-vision is needed here, but even without it, my mouth is watering!

Cloudia said...


Jack & pie by the fire-

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral



ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I can smell that delicious pie right through my laptop screen.

P.S. Cloudia, I like your fish ascii. Here's my fish with emu:

………. >(‘> >(‘>
………. >()))*>

JCK said...

Wow! This looks delicious. I can smell the vanilla from here. :) Love your photos, too.

Vallen said...

That looks so worth it!!! You know, in recipes that I have used for pie crust where you add egg yolk, you also add some vinegar. Wonder if that's why yours didn't come together.
In any case, looks like you made it all come out starshine.

vacuumslayer said...

That's absolutely gorgeous. It's like something out of a food magazine.