I am getting into the habit now of buying seasonal produce at our local farmers’ market, and then coming home and scouring our cookbooks to see what I can make with what I have bought. We received several new cookbooks as wedding presents, and one that has been particularly useful for this task is The Silver Spoon. Published in 1950, The Silver Spoon is one of those cookbooks that it is universally acknowledged should be found in every kitchen. It is the essential guide to Italian cooking, containing so many recipes that the prospect of deciding what to cook can be at times a little overwhelming.
So far I have had great success with the Silver Spoon recipes I have tried. This tart is a lovely and light – the eggy custard filling is so good it would be great even without the apples, and could be combined with most fruits or berries, so you can use whatever is in season. However, what really blew me away was the pastry. The pastry was perfect – crisp without being too crumbly, it has a wonderful flavour, avoiding any of the blandness that one often finds in tart pastries. This is the pastry I will use for sweet tarts from now on.
Apple Alsace Tart
From The Silver Spoon
100g (3.5oz) caster sugar (or white sugar)
1 large egg
120g (4oz) unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)
250g (9oz) plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
Cut the butter into small cubes, and leave it out of the fridge for 10 minutes or so until it is soft but not runny. Beat together the caster sugar and egg until light and fluffy (I recommend using electric beaters). Beat in the butter until well combined. At this stage it will look like there are very little lumps in your mixture, but this is fine.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, and make a well in the middle. Pour in the sugar/butter/egg mixture, and combine with your fingertips. Knead until smooth and not crumbly. Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap), and store in the fridge for at least an hour. This step can be done several days in advance.
When you are ready to use the pastry, grease a tart tin with a removable base. (The Silver Spoon recommends using a 25cm/10 inch tin). Roll out your pastry on a lightly-floured surface. It will be quite tough at first – if you find little cracks or holes in places just take a bit of extra pastry from the sides, place it over the hole, and go over it a couple of times with your rolling pin. When your pastry is rolled to the size of the tart tin, roll it up over your rolling pin and then roll it out over the tart tin (this avoids tearing your dough as you try to move it just using your hands). Lightly press the dough into the sides of your tin, and cut off any excess. (You can knead together the excess dough and put it back in the fridge to use later).
Leave your pastry-lined tart tin in the fridge until needed.
150g (5oz) caster sugar (or white sugar)
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons full-cream milk
2 tablespoons of double (thickened) cream
5 eating apples
The juice of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). To make the custard, whisk together the caster sugar and eggs in a saucepan. Whisk in the milk and cream. Place the saucepan over low heat, and cook, whisking constantly, until it thickens and becomes smooth. It will not get very thick, like custard. If you get lumps you can break them up by whisking vigorously. Take off the heat and put to one side.
Peel the apples, cut into quarters and remove the core. I then sliced these lengthwise to make my slices thinner. I layered the larger slices in a overlapping pattern around the edges of the pan, and then layered the smaller slices in the middle of the pan. You can really arrange your apple slices any way you think looks nice – you may end up having some pieces of a particular size left over, but don’t feel you have to use up all your apple in the filling. When the apple is arranged, sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discolouring.
Carefully pour the custard around the apples so that you do not leave any gaps where the base of the pastry is exposed. Place low in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. You should check your tart after about 20 minutes, and if you find the top is browning too quickly, then cover with aluminium foil for the rest of the baking period. Allow your tart to cool for at least 15 minutes before turning out of its tin.