Although I can manage a country-style loaf of sourdough bread, more refined baking is my Achilles heel. I avoid making pastry the way I avoid hanging doors or framing windows. In a post-apocalyptic world where my survival depended on advanced carpentry skills to keep the zombies out I would muddle through, but in the meantime I’m content to stand back and admire better bakers than I. I’ve made what I call the Lazy Man’s Sheet Pan Apple Tart successfully a half-dozen times. It’s delicious, forgiving (to a point) and clumsiness with the crust only contributes to its rustic appearance. It seemed a no-brainer for a post when I’d be on my own while Jody tended to her new restaurant. Alas, The best laid schemes 0′ Mice and Men etc. etc. More on that in a bit.
This tart takes its inspiration from a recipe in a favorite cookbook, A PLATTER OF FIGS (Artisan, 2008) by David Tanis, the part-time head chef at Chez Panisse. One of the book’s charms is arrangement into seasonal menus rather than the more conventional appetizers-soups-vegetables-etc. The food manages to be both simple and deeply sensual (sample fall menu: Steamed Fennel with Red Pepper Oil, Roasted Quail with Grilled Radicchio and Creamy Polenta, and Italian Plum Cake). It’s filled with stuff that you really want to make, even if you engage in a bit of mixing and matching with the menus or just cherry-pick something for a week night. Any of the items will provoke swoons of gustatory pleasure.
Tanis’s unpretentious apple tart is made on a sheet pan. The lazy man in my version comes from the fact that I use a mechanical apple peeler (hey, I’m a guy, I love gizmos, and this one really works), I use fewer apples than he does (I find they caramelize faster), and instead of following his instructions for magicking homemade glaze out of apple cores, sugar and water I take his advice and just thin a little apricot jam. For purists, I’ve included the recipe more or less as he wrote it (increase the quantity of apples to 3 pounds – about 8 apples – instead of the 2½ I use).
I’ve made this tart with apples and pears, fiddled with the amount of dough and quantity of fruit but it seems not much to matter. It always comes out in a glorious burnt-around-the edges kind of way. The recipe suggests a baking time of about 45 minutes. I’ve made the tart and it has taken that long. I’ve also had it take up to 15 minutes longer. How thin you slice the fruit, how much fruit you use, the thickness of your crust, your oven, etc. – all of them seem to affect the amount of time it takes for the fruit to brown around the edges.
David Tanis has you bake the tart, then brush each portion with glaze right before serving. I prefer to brush the tart with a bit of glaze about three-quarters of the way through baking, then follow Tanis’s example before serving. Glazing appears to speed the caramelizing process. The first brushing is completely absorbed, as you can tell from the photo of the tart right after it emerged from the oven.
Back to gang aft agley. Our modus operandi is for Jody to cook while I photograph. Jody’s daunting schedule made that unlikely last week and the cupboard was bare of any posts saved for a rainy day. I volunteered to fly solo, envisioning myself pausing while I considered the compositional implication of dough positioning, the esthetics of apple peels shot through a macro lens. I saw myself snapping off a few frames, then advancing to the next culinary esthetic juncture. What could go wrong?
I discovered that trying to mix dough, then washing your hands, taking a picture, going to the next step, washing your hands, taking a picture, etc. was a sticky nightmare, at least with this crust, where speed and minimal handling of the dough are a priority. My hat’s off to any food blogger who can actually do this (are you there, Sally, at Cooking Lessons?). I’m sorry but there are no photos of critical tart crust steps (actually there aren’t really any critical steps in this recipe). You’ll have to stumble along as best you can.
Secondly, the preheating oven began belching black clouds of smoke. We had a house full of people this past weekend and did a lot of roasting. Someone probably gave a pan of sweet potatoes a little too vigorous a stir and splashed pomegranate molasses on the oven floor.
In any event, there was nothing for it but to throw open the windows, allow the oven to cool, then clean it, by which time I’d moved into the time-to-take-Roxanne-to-dance zone.
I stashed the dough in the fridge and finished the tart the following day–peeling and photographing as my apples slowly oxidized (that’s not cinnamon on the apples in the photo of the tart before it’s baked). But just as Tanis said, it didn’t matter that the apples darkened. It was still great. In fact, almost as satisfying as a well-hung door.
Lazy Man’s Sheet Pan Apple Tart
Makes 1 15½-by-10½-inch tart
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into thin pieces
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, beaten, plus enough ice water to make ½ cup
- 5 – 7 crisp apples (about 2½ pounds)
- 1 cup sugar for the glaze, plus extra for sprinkling on the apples
- ½ cup apricot jam
- Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it looks mealy, with some large flecks of butter remaining. Pour the egg-ice water mixture into the bowl and quickly knead the dough until it comes together. Only a minute or two – you don’t want the butter to melt. It will be soft, sticky, and, though gathered together, a little rough looking.
- Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and pat into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
- Divide the pastry in half (there will be enough for two tarts; you can freeze one half for later). Roll out the pastry to a rectangle, approximately 11 by 16 inches, using a 15½-by-10½-inch baking sheet as a template.
- Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and let it relax. If your dough isn’t perfectly rectangular just patch with bits and pieces as necessary, then trim the edges to fit the pan with a little going slightly up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Peel the apples and cut into quarters (or use your genuine New England apple-potato peeler). Remove the cores and use to make a glaze as follows: Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water with the cores. Stir at first to dissolve the sugar, then simmer to a thick syrup. Strain and reserve. (Or use honey or good apricot jam, thinned, for a glaze – I used apricot jam.)
- Slice the apples as thin as possible. Arrange the slices over the pastry in rows, overlapping them like cards in solitaire. At this point the tart can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. (It’s okay if the apples darken.)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sprinkle sugar generously over the apples and bake until that are beautifully browned and crisp, about 45 minutes. About ¾ of the way through the cooking I brushed a thin layer of glaze over the tart. After the tart has finished allow it to cool on a rack.
- Just before serving, reheat the glaze. Slide the tart from the pan onto a cutting board. Paint the apples with the warmed glaze. Slice into small rectangles or triangles or whatever strikes your fancy to serve.
I honestly had absolutely nothing to do with this post except to have the good fortune to find it sitting on the counter just waiting to be brushed with glaze on Wednesday when I got home. Or was it thursday. It was about 3 in the morning when things always taste the best so I didn’t stop with one slice…