January 9th, 2011
I ran into a rather good deal on McIntosh apples this week, and since they aren’t terribly nice for eating, I decided to bake something. I’m still a bit shy of traditional pies after our recent excesses, so my first thought was for apple dumplings. I hied me to the Feeding America Collection and started hunting down receipts. In the midst of all the apple dumplings, boiled and baked and everything in between, I came across this intriguing item in Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book by Catherine Beecher, c. 1845, for Spiced Apple Tarts:
I began by peeling, coring, and slicing 5 or 6 McIntosh apples, plus 1 Granny Smith for flavor. I then proceeded to stew them in a bit of water plus 1 Tablespoon cognac. When they were nice and soft (only about 10 minutes as my stove was too hot), I put them through a sieve. For all practical purposes, it’s applesauce.
Then I added a squeeze of lemon juice — I’d intended to put in the grated lemon rind but got lazy. I spiced it well with liberal amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg (being out of all my other baking spices and desperately in need of a trip to Chelsea Market) and sweetened it with a few teaspoonfuls of blackstrap molasses.
Miss Beecher recommends using a light crust, so I chose my favorite modern tart crust.
1/4 lb butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 cup flour
Bring butter and cream cheese nearly to room temperature. Cream together until light and fluffy. Stir in flour. Form into ball and refrigerate for 1 hour. Divide into 6 pieces for large sized individual tarts, 12 pieces for muffin-tin sized tarts, or 24 pieces for mini-muffin sized tarts. Spread dough into bottom of tart pans with your fingers. Fill and bake, or for cold fillings, pierce the bottom of each tart with a fork and bake blind for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
I used a set of 6 tart pans that I’ve been meaning to send back to my dear friend (and chef/confectioner extraordinaire) Marla for some time. She sent them filled with 6 of the most delicious homemade-from-scratch pies all the way from California last fall. Using the tins one more time made me feel as though Marla might just drop in for tea and tarts — and I do wish she could!
I was nervous that the wetness of the filling might prevent the tart dough from crisping properly, but my fears were unfounded. The applesauce cooked down a bit as the tarts baked, taking on a delightful, almost apple-butter-like texture. And the crust was firm, flaky, and nicely browned after 20-25 minutes.
They were delicious. The man I cook for enjoyed his portion very much, though expressed a wish for whipped cream, in which I heartily concur. I’ll probably make some to accompany the remaining tarts. Or we can do like Jack Kerouac and simply empty the cream pitcher over them (a story my almost-beatnik husband — they still know him by sight at Caffe Trieste– is fond of relating whenever I serve him pie).