Chow Bella

AndyTalk: The Anatomy of a Tart, Or, I'm Not a Lazy Cook, I Just Don't Want to Go to the Store

I'm headed to a neighbor's for dinner, and I want to bring something besides a bottle of wine. I want to bring dessert. I have apples, and I tell myself that I should be able to make a pie. So what if it's only 3 apples, and I don't have any flour? I don't want to drive to the store for ingredients. If Audrey Hepburn could turn soda crackers into a soufflé in Humphrey Bogart's office (in Sabrina) then I can turn three apples into a worthy dessert. My self-set pie challenge is a sort of culinary Sudoku -- at least in the small world where kitchens and black-and-white Hollywood merge.

Making do with ingredients on hand is often the inspiration for what turn out to be my favorite recipes. In addition to apples, I have both granulated and confectioner's sugar, butter, brandy, and pretzels. That's really not enough for a pie, but it is more than enough to make an apple tart .

Specifically, I had the ingredients to make what I'm now calling an Apple Tart with a Sweet Pretzel Crust.

The crust for a tart needs to be as good as a cookie. Since the layer of fruit on most tarts is relatively thin, the crust is half of the dessert. The pretzels I cobbled together with butter and sugar made a killer crust. In Minnesota I think they'd call it a "keeper." It had the crumbly consistency of a good graham cracker crust, but it also had salt.

Salt, sugar, and fat are the trinity of flavor (or the three prongs of the devil's trident if you're a dietician). I love a dessert that has salty overtones, and this crust is about as salty as Toll House cookies made with salted butter (per the classic recipe). There's a shot of brandy in the crust as well. It adds depth of flavor, and it helps bind the ingredients.

The apples are tossed in melted butter and then tossed again in 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar with a little ground nutmeg.

Press the dough into the tart pan, and then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

Add 2 layers of apple slices. The first layer of apple slices is arranged with the apples running parallel to the side of the pan (the apples form concentric circles). The second layer is made of apples fanned out around the edge and in the center (see pic of finished art at top). If the apple layers go in different directions, you'll minimize gaps that often appear when the apples shrink in the oven. If you do the center circle last, the tart will look its best.

The rest of the confectioner's sugar goes on top. The sugar melts right away, but in the oven it caramelizes and gives the tart a warm amber sheen.

I love it when an off-the-cuff recipe exceeds my expectations. When the recipe is an apple tart, the good feeling is accompanied by a kitchen smelling of sweet of success.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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Andy Broder