It is noteworthy that most of the recipes here in December will be on the sweet side - it's Christmastime and you know the Brave Astronaut has a pretty good sweet tooth. This week's contribution from the Smitten Kitchen.
Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel
Puffed pastry is a wonderful thing to keep around in your freezer. It comes at all price points, but I do think that the best ones contain only butter, not shortening. DuFour is my favorite brand; it is an investment that you will be able to taste in every bite and this is the kind of tart where you’ll really be able to tell. If you buy some for this recipe, buy two. You’ll thank me next week, when you need to make it again.
Be ye not intimidated by homemade caramel. I promise, it can be so simple. You don’t need water, corn syrup, a pastry brush or exclamation point-ed nerve-wracking admonitions to not stir. You just put some sugar in an empty saucepan, turn the heat up and wait a few minutes. It will melt; it always does.
Note: The caramel glaze is not like a caramel sauce you would put on ice cream. Those will have more cream in them, to keep them thin. I was going for a firmer one, soft only when melted, and with as clean of a color as possible (not muddied by extra cream). For a traditional salted caramel sauce, use this recipe. For a slightly thinner salted caramel syrup (amazing on pancakes or crepes), use this.
- 14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted in fridge overnight
- 3 large or 4 medium apples (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or half as much table salt)
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
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 there. Try not to roll it any bigger than you’ll need it, or you’ll have to trim, which means you’ll have to sprinkle the trimmings with cinnamon-sugar and bake them into cookie-sized segments for snacks. And that would be terrible.
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. Trust me.
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.