Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall Fest 2010: Revised Medieval Apple Tart

If you're a person of a certain age who loves to cook, one of your favorite cookbooks is probably The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the early 80s when the tiny shop on Columbus and 73rd was at its zenith. At summer concerts in Central Park, you knew who the cool food people were if they had the Pate Maison or the Mediterranean Chicken Salad with a baguette in their little picnic encampment.

Both The Silver Palate Cookbook and The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook were proud possessions of mine when I returned home to L.A. I can't tell you how many times I've made Chicken Marbella. It's truly a classic. But, at one of the first dinner parties my roommate and I held, I made the Medieval Apple Tart from the former book. And then cursed out the authors. Much as I love these books, it was clear that the recipes hadn't been tested or that their idea of an ingredient list was to have up to four times the amount of ingredients you needed for a recipe -- at least this recipe. One pound of melted butter? I only used slightly over one stick and I was generous. Six apples? How about three, with some leftovers. And on and on...

But, I loved the concept for this phyllo-based tart and since this is apple week for Fall Fest, all these years later I decided to make the tart but to finally take the time to figure out the right amount of ingredients -- and add some that would change it up a little after 30 years. So, along with the apples, I've added dried Bing cherries from Trader Joe's. Instead of just using white sugar, I went half and half with brown sugar. And to the sugar mixture I added what has become my (now not so) secret ingredient for apple pies Chef Bernard's Spice "Baker's Delight" fennel pollen.

This is definitely one of those ingredients you should have in your pantry because you don't need much at any one time and it really elevates otherwise ordinary flavors. Chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room launched his line of fennel pollen several years ago. The Baker's Delight includes fennel pollen, dried ground orange peel, lemon grass powder, cayenne pepper, sour plum powder, tar anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, vanilla powder, ground clove, and coriander. Talk about depth of flavor...

So, here's what you need to know to make this tart if you already have the book. The original recipe called for a pound of melted butter. One pound! Man, did it aggravate me to have a large saucepan still filled with melted butter at the end. What a waste. Sorry, but this time I started with one stick and needed just under half a stick more by the time I finished putting the tart together. Forget one cup of sugar; I ending up using half of it, even with a generous hand. I sliced up five apples (the original calls for six) and still had half left over. I added some extra phyllo leaves to build up the crust. And though I tried as hard as I could to create the perfect round pie it still came out oval. Deal with it. I did.

Medieval Apple Tart
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
Serves six to eight

14 phyllo leaves, fresh or thoroughly defrosted
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon Chef Bernard's Spice "Baker's Delight" fennel pollen
Calvados (or Grand Marnier)
3 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried Bing cherries

1. Unwrap the phyllo leaves and cover with a damp towel. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix together the sugars and fennel pollen.
2. Using a pastry brush, lightly butter a large baking sheet. Lay a phyllo leaf on the pan (remember to keep the rest of the leaves covered with the damp towel while you're working). Brush the leaf with some melted butter, then sprinkle it with a tablespoon of the sugar mixture and a teaspoon of the Calvados. Repeat, using 6 more phyllo leaves.
3. Arrange the apples and dried cherries in the center of the top sheet of phyllo in a circular mound about 6 inches in diameter. Brush with butter and sprinkle with the sugar mixture and some Calvados.

4. Stack 7 more leaves of the phyllo on top of the apples, repeating the buttering and sprinkling of sugar and Calvados. The top (14th) sheet of phyllo should only be buttered.
5. Trim the corners of the phyllo to get a round shape (or, like me, an oval shape). Then turn up the edges all around and pinch lightly to seal. Perfection isn't an issue here; this is meant to look rustic.

6. Set the tart in the middle rack of the oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes until golden. Check at about 20 minutes to see if it's getting too brown too quickly, in which case, cover it loosely with foil so the apples and cherries can cook.
7. Remove from the oven and serve. Or let cool and reheat gently before serving.

Now, for another version of apple pie, take a look at this terrific video on Food 52 of Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs making a Brown Butter and Cheddar Apple Pie with the fabulous Dorie Greenspan.

And, let's see what my Fall Fest friends are up to this week:

Todd and Diane at White on Rice Couple: Apple picking, and Broiled Leeks with Apple Vinaigrette
Alana at Eating from the Ground Up: Apple pie and its place in her family religion
Marilyn at Simmer Till Done: Louisa May Alcott's Apple Slump
Alison at Food2: 22 Awesome Ways to Use Your Apples
Michelle at Cooking Channel: Apple Dessert Recipes
Dana at Healthy Eats: 31 Days of Apple Recipes
Liz at Food Network: Pick the Perfect Apple
Caroline at The Wright Recipes: Apple Stack Cake and Dark Caramel Apples
Food Network UK: Five English apples you should know and love
Gilded Fork: Apples—Sweet Seduction
Paige at The Sister Project: Third-Prize Apple Pie
Nicole at Pinch My Salt: Favorite Apple Recipes
Margaret at Away to Garden: Apple Season: A Windfall of Recipes from my Friends

Now It's Your Turn to Join Fall Fest 2010!
This collaborative effort won't be much fun without you! The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy fall's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? You can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. 
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big Fall Fest 2010 pumpkin badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #fallfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
Sept. 1: Sweet and Spicy Peppers
Sept. 8: Garlic
Sept. 15: White (or colorful “white”…but not sweet) Potatoes
Sept. 22: Spinach
Sept. 29: Apples
Oct. 6: Fall Salads
Oct. 13: Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Oct. 20: Pears
Oct. 27: “Mad Stash” (as in what you’re freezing/canning/drying, etc.)
Nov. 3: Root veggies
Nov. 10: Brassicas: incl. Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage or other
Nov. 17: Sweet Potatoes
Nov. 24: Bounty to Be Grateful For

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