In all candor, I wrestled with posting this recipe. For one, it’s brutally ugly — I’m talking a tart only a mother could love. Furthermore, there was a situation with the caramel. Let it be known that I have no patience for candy-making. I do not own a candy thermometer, nor do I want one. However, my affection for caramel is real, true and deep, and part of me thought: HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?
Famous last words.
While this tart is incredibly delicious — a thin layer of flaky, lightweight pastry serving as a bed for roasted apples and sweet caramel — I really botched the caramel situation simply for the fact that akin to making risotto, you really have to linger in the kitchen. And you have to keep stirring. Going forward, I’m going to use David Lebovitz’s bullet-proof caramel technique to avoid heartbreak and confusion. Also, cane sugar is ROUGH in terms of releasing liquids (I don’t have granulated in my pantry), and the fact that I left it for a bit caused some deep clumps to form and harden. Picture me HOWLING in the kitchen.
THIS WOMAN IS A FIGHTER! And I pressed on, apply said caramel to the roasted apples and allowing the mixture to bubble in the oven. The recipe was extraordinary and delicious, in spite of its ugliness.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe + instructions adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For the Tart base
14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted in fridge overnight
3 large or 4 medium apples (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits
For the Salted caramel glaze
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt)
1/4 tsp flaky sea salt (or half as much table salt)
2 tbsp heavy cream
Heat your oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. A smaller pan will make a thicker tart (and you might need fewer apples). In a larger pan, you can still fit a 10×15-inch tart, which I think is the ideal size here.
Lightly flour your counter and lay out your pastry. Flour the top and gently roll it until it fits inside your baking sheet, and transfer it to the sheet.
Peel the apples and cut them in half top-to-bottom. Remove the cores and stems. Slice the apples halves crosswise as thinly as you can with a knife, or to about 1/16-inch thickness with a mandoline. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, fan the apples around the tart in slightly overlapping concentric rectangles — each apple should overlap the one before so that only about 3/4-inch of the previous apple will be visible — until you reach the middle. Sprinkle the apples evenly with the first two tablespoons of sugar then dot with the first two tablespoons butter.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are brown and the edges of the apples begin to take on some color. If you sliced your apples by hand and they were on the thicker side, you might need a little more baking time to cook them through. The apples should feel soft, but dry to the touch. If you puffed pastry bubbles dramatically in any place during the baking time, simply poke it with a knife or skewer so that it deflates.
Meanwhile, about 20 minutes into the baking time, make your glaze. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt your last 1/4 cup sugar; this will take about 3 minutes. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice copper color, another minute or two. Off the heat, add the sea salt and butter and stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Add the heavy cream and return to the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until you have a lovely, bronzed caramel syrup, just another minute, two, tops. Set aside until needed. You may need to briefly rewarm it to thin the caramel before brushing it over the tart.
After the tart has baked, transfer it to a cooling rack, but leave the oven on. Using very short, gentle strokes, and brushing in the direction that the apples fan to mess up their design as little as possible, brush the entire tart, including the exposed pastry, with the salted caramel glaze. You might have a little leftover. Whatever you do, do not spread it on a sliced apple for a snack.
Return the apple tart to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the caramel glaze bubbles. Let tart cool complete before cutting into 12 squares. Serve plain, with coffee or tea, if you’re feeling grown-up or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent.