Yesterday I was browsing through my recipe index for a realistic look at where I need to focus more of my efforts. Vegetables to be sure. Perhaps more holiday friendly recipes. I was surprised to find that I have posted on so many sweet things. I like desserts, but I’m not fanatical about them. Given a choice, I usually prefer a savoury tart to a sweet one and I think that everything tastes better with bacon–even chocolate. Mostly, though, I don’t see myself as much of a baker. I can whip up a mean chocolate mousse, a sultry rice pudding, a pavlova that is shatteringly flaky on the outside and chewy and tender on the inside. However, anything that requires the mixing of batter and the application of heat often ends in disappointment.
There are people–like my mother–that can eyeball mounds of flour and sugar, a hunk of butter, and produce the perfect cake. Then there are bakers like me, who measure everything as specified in the recipe and are still apt to end up with lopsided cakes and brownies that are better off as paperweights.
But things are changing around here. I have recently discovered baking by weight. I’m hooked on this method. I’m a convert. For someone like me, using metric measurements makes baking so much easier, the results more even and predictable.
Europeans have been baking by weight for ages. France, for example, adopted the metric system in 1791! In fact, most of the world uses it. Canada began converting to metric in 1970, but change can sometimes be a drawn out process. Here we talk about kilometres instead of miles, gas in litres, but weight in pounds. At the grocery store, the prices of vegetables and meats are usually supplied according to weight in kilos and pounds. Cookbooks published in Canada must state both metric and imperial measures. It can all be so confusing.
Although I have long known that baking by weight is more exact than the cup and spoon method, I resisted making the switch. I told myself that it wouldn’t enough of a difference to make it worth the hassle.
Well, I was wrong and this is why: the amount of flour in once cup can vary from just over four ounces to five-and-a-half depending on a variety of factors, including how the cup has been measured. This is an astonishing variation, one that can make the difference between a tender pastry and a tough one. The failure inherent in so many recipes in cookbooks originally published abroad is a direct result of the author trying to convert metric measures into cups and spoons for the American consumer.
If you’re not baking by weight, I urge you to go to your nearest culinary supply shop and get yourself a reliable scale–preferably a digital one. They aren’t that expensive, and you will find yourself using it constantly. In fact, it will pay for itself with the first soft crumbs of your blueberry coffee cake.
Which brings me to this tart. Salted caramel, tender and juicy apples, a thin and golden pastry that is at once light, crisp, tender. Simple yet elegant, made especially with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
A food processor makes short work of the pastry. If you don’t have one, blend the butter and flour with a pastry blender, or cut the butter into the flour using a knife and fork. Whichever method you use, the result should be a course mixture that resembles bread crumbs. Do not add the water all at once but a spoonful at a time as you may not need all of it, depending on humidity and other factors.
When pressed for time, I have also made these tarts with store-bought all-butter puff pastry, cutting the dough into rectangles to create individual tarts instead of a large tart cut into pieces.
No matter which way you slice it, an apple tart is always pure heaven.
Salted Caramel Apple Tart
250g all-purpose flour
125 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
80 ml ice water
4 apples, cored and peeled and thinly sliced
1oo g sugar
50 g butter
juice of half a lemon
3 g salt (1/2 teaspoon)
1) Blend the flour and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. With the motor running, add the ice water spoon by spoon until it clings together and forms a smooth dough.
2) Knead dough lightly on a floured board, careful not to over handle the dough, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour or more.
3) In the meantime, make the salted caramel: melt the butter and sugar together over medium low heat. Add the lemon juice and blend until smooth and incorporated.
4) Roll out the pastry on the floured board to form a rectangle. Gently transfer to a cookie sheet. Arrange the apples on top in three separate rows, overlapping slightly. Using a spoon, drizzle heavily with about 2/3 of the salted caramel. Bake in a 350F (180C) oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the crust is a deep gold.
5) Cool and cut into 9 rectangles. Serve with vanilla ice cream drizzled with the rest of the salted caramel.