Thursday, 26 March 2009
I'm in a bit of a baking phase at the moment - as I type there is a a chocolate banana loaf cooling in the kitchen ready for breakfast (if Bill says chocolate is a breakfast food, then that's good enough for me). Tomorrow there'll be a plum crumble cake to use up the surfeit of plums in the kitchen (also from Bill's Food). Last week, there was the coffee and walnut cake that I just had to bake. Then there's my mum's apple tart. Jo's post about heritage cake the other day got me thinking about the apple tart recipe that I've grown up with. My mum would rustle this up most Sundays to be popped into the oven after the roast was cooked.
Okay, so I know there will be purists out there who will insist that this is an apple pie (I think the technical definition is that a pie has pastry both underneath and on top of the filling, whereas a tart just has pastry underneath). It probably doesn't matter (you say pie, I say tart, let's call the whole thing off) ... however, I'm not budging on this one. For me, pie seems like a hearty option - thick pastry, chunky apples - whereas this has thin and crisp sugar encrusted pastry and thinly sliced apples.
Anyway, here's the how I make mine:
125g butter or block margarine
250g plain flour
a few tablespoons chilled water
5 or 6 sharp eating apples or 5 bramley cooking apples
lots of sugar
Take the butter or margarine straight from the fridge, cut into smallish cubes and put it in a mixing bowl with the flour. Then, using the tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs and no large lumps remain. Then, make a well in the middle and add a couple of tablespoons of cold water. Using a knife/palette knife, draw the flour/butter into the water, adding more water if necessary until the mixture begins to hold together. Don't add too much water or you'll end up with a sticky mess. Just when the mixture is beginning to stick together, get your hands back in and pull it all together into a ball. If you like you can then rest the dough in the fridge for 30 mins wrapped in cling film, but I don't do this and I don't remember my mum ever doing it either!
Cut the ball of pastry in half so that you have two pieces, one for the underside and one to cover the filling. Roll one ball out so that it's the right size to fit your plate (I use a pyrex plate - any plate will do, approximately the same size as a dinner plate, as long as it is ovenproof). Grease the plate then pop the pastry on top and then cut off the excess with a sharp knife.
Take your apples and peel them, slice them into quarters, then remove the cores. Slice them as thinly as you can lengthways. Layer up the apples on top of the pastry-covered plate, with a good sprinkling of sugar over each layer (you will need considerably more sugar if you're using cooking apples than for eating apples). When your apple filling is nicely heaped up, roll out the second ball of pastry to form a lid for the tart. Use a little of the beaten egg to moisten the edges of the pastry on the plate so that the lid will adhere. Pop the lid on the tart and press down around the edges with your fingers. Make a few holes with a knife in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape. Cut off any excess pastry with a sharp knife.
Paint the lid of the tart with the beaten egg, and if you like, make an apple and leaf from the pastry cuttings to decorate it (I either get my children to do this, or just pretend they have done it as my pastry art is never very expert!). Sprinkle lots of sugar over the top of the tart, then pop in an oven preheated to gas mark 5 (190C / 375 F) for 30-40 minutes on the middle shelf or lower. It needs plenty of time to cook the apples through as you haven't precooked them, so if the pastry begins to get too brown you can just cover it with a foil lid.
If you have small children, give them the remaining pastry scraps so that they can either make jam tarts or just meld them into a soggy lump as the fancy takes them.
The best bit about this recipe is that there are no quantities to remember - you just take about half a pack of butter (ours are usually 250g in the UK) and use twice as much flour for the pastry. Couldn't be simpler! It's quick enough that I wouldn't think twice about making one for tea on a school night on a whim, though I am not the fastest apple peeler on the planet.