French Apple Tart

For me, holiday meals usually involve pulling out all the stops. Usually a week’s worth of planning and cooking. And so it was that I came to make this beautiful Apple Tart for Christmas, one of the most visually stunning desserts that I have ever made. The crust had 10 tablespoons of butter (so it’s got to be good). The tart used 5-pounds of apples, so it was destined to be filled with apple flavor. Inexplicably, against everything my eyes were telling me, I simply didn’t like the tart. Just 2-stars.

Looks like a work of art.

Looks like a work of art.

At first, I thought that the desserts downfall primarily lay in the high visual expectations, coupled with the unpopular applesauce-like consistency of the puree used to hold the slices in place. All of my guests complained about the “applesauce”. But as I more closely examined the recipe I noticed a few ingredients were not part of the recipe. Most notably: sugar. While billed as a “tart”, its did not have any relief of the tartness of the green apples.

Rating: 2-star.
Cost: $12.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time: 10:00 AM. End time: 12 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

Crust Ingredients:
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour (6 2/3 ounces)
5 tablespoons sugar (2 1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  1. Put butter in a small sauce over low heat and allow to slowly melt; about 5 minutes. Also, set an oven rack to lowest position and another rack 5″-to-6″ from broiler element. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. Add melted butter and stir with stiff rubber spatula or wooden spoon until a dough forms.
  4. Using your hands, press two-thirds of dough into bottom of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press remaining dough into fluted sides of pan.
  5. Press and smooth dough with your hands to even thickness.
  6. Place pan on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake on lowest rack, until crust is deep golden brown and firm to touch, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Set aside until ready to fill.

10 Golden Delicious apples (8 ounces each)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon water
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Peel and core 5 apples (remaining 5 will be used later). Cut lengthwise into quarters and cut each quarter lengthwise into 4 slices.
  2. Set 12″ skillet over medium heat and melt 1 tablespoon butter.
  3. Add apple slices and 1 Tablespoon water and toss to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples begin to turn translucent and are slightly pliable, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave apricot preserves for 30 seconds until they become fluid. Strain preserves through a fine-mesh strainer reserving the solids. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the strained preserves for brushing tart (most will be used for making the applesauce).
  5. Transfer apples to large plate, spread into single layer, and set aside to cool. Do not clean out the skillet.
  6. Peel and core the remaining 5 apples and slice into 1/2″-thick wedges. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium burner. Add the strained preserve, apricot solids, apple wedges and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover with lid and cook for 10 minutes; stirring a few times until the apples become very soft.
  7. Use a potato masher to mash into a puree and continue to cook for another 5 minutes until it has reduced to 2 cups.
  8. Put puree into baked tart shell and smooth. Select 5 or 6 of the thinnest sauteed apples to use in the center.
  9. Start at the outer edge of the tart, arrange slices in concentric circles, offsetting each circle so that the slices don’t line up. It will create the flower-like pattern. Use the thin, reserved slices to fit into the center.
  10. Bake at350 degrees for 30 minutes (still on the wire rack in sheet pan).
  11. Remove from oven and pre-heat broiler. Water the 3 tablespoons of preserve from Step 4 in microwave for 20 seconds. Evenly brust over the entire surfact of the apples, but avoiding the crust.
  12. Broil for 1 to 4 minutes until the apples are attractively browned. Allow tart to cool for 1-1/2 hours before removing from tart pan and serving.

17 Responses to French Apple Tart

  1. Sonya says:

    Good to know! I have this bookmarked to make, but will lower my expectations 🙂

  2. MaggieToo says:

    What a shame. A real case of not judging a book by its cover, eh? Do you have any suggestions for how it might be improved? Would a heavy shower of chunky sugar crystals over the apples before baking give some contrast and sweetness?

    As gorgeous as this is, it seems a shame to dismiss it from the repertoire.

    • I know I felt exactly the same way. I am thinking of changing the recipe to be more of a traditional apple pie. Changing apple types, adding sugar and cinnamon, etc. Obviously it’ll be a completely different dessert, but as I baked it, between guests and leftovers, I still have half sitting in my refrigerator.


  3. Ryan Athp says:

    Golden delicious apples aren’t green, generally. Are you sure your market didn’t mislabel Granny Smith as Goldens?

    • Well if apples are divided into two groups; green and red, then they’re green. lol. They are not as green (or tart as granny smith), but they are hardly “golden” either.

      BTW – I did read online that supermarket golden delicious apples are picked green and are not nearly as sweet as tree ripened apples. I don’t know if that might have made my tart more popular.

  4. Diane says:

    I too thought the tart was stunning to look at. Thanks for going through all the work of preparing it and then giving an honest critique. Very helpful. If you modify the recipe to be more like an apple pie, will you post your results? I’d love to try it if the taste matches up to the presentation.

  5. Jonny Rashid says:

    A shame. I think trying to use sweeter apples might be the first step toward improvement, as opposed to going the apple pie route .

  6. Mike says:

    Do you think the flavor might have been improved with the addition of a little cinnamon, either in the pureed apple base or in a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar on top, or both?

  7. pbiphoto says:

    I make these all the time for church, friends, etc, always to rave reviews.

    I always use premium quality, local, ripe apples when they are in season. If you can only find yellow (not green) store bought apples, frozen apple concentrate added to the skillet instead of water will add some more apple flavor. But don’t EVER make one of these with unripe, green apples. (Golden delicious apples with tartness are NOT ripe; it’s a sweet apple type.) Ripe golden delicious apples are important for the tart top due to texture and ease of cutting.

    2 hours??? I’ve made lots of these and so have the process down pat, but it still takes me over 3 hours start to finish. I bake my crust darker and more flavorful than yours looks.

    What did you core the apples with? I can see parts of the seed pocket in your slices. They should be carefully cut out if your corer doesn’t get them all. Also, it sounds like your puree may have had too much water left in it. Cook the puree until it’s very dry, much dryer than applesauce. If you think the puree is too prominent in the overall tart, only use four apples for the puree. It only has to be about a 1/4 inch thick.The slices just rest on the puree, not into it.

    Also, ALL the slices should be placed in the tart with the peel side facing up, core side down. The tart looks a mess in both your before baking and after baking photos due to the apple slices being upside down. Look at the photo in the original recipe again.

    I often mix varieties in the puree. I also sometimes add fresh, home-ground cinnamon or home-made apple pie spice to the puree, but even my tarts with no added spices always get great reviews and disappear in minutes.

  8. pbiphoto says:

    Here is a link to a photo of the first tart I made, for a church cooking class. It’s a better angle to see how it’s put together than the photo in the original recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.

  9. Jennifer K Grena says:

    I made this tart last Fall. I loved it!! I found the tart’s flavor actually improved after 2-3 days. Some foods actually improve with age and this is one of those. So maybe make the tart in advance of needing to serve it.

  10. I made this tart last Fall. I loved it!! I found the tart’s flavor actually improved after 2-3 days. Some foods actually improve with age and this is one of those. So maybe make the tart in advance of needing to serve it.

  11. I made this tart last Fall. I loved it!! I found the tart’s flavor actually improved after 2-3 days. Some foods actually improve with age and this is one of those. So maybe make the tart in advance of needing to serve it.

  12. Gabriella Sacchetti says:

    I only make the tart with Granny Smith tart apples, and get great reviews every time. I think Golden Delicious apples are too sweet. Regarding the negative reviews of the “apple sauce”, it is not supposed to be an apple pie with cinnamon etc. I thought the name of the dessert signaled it was a tart filled with fruit, could have custard, marzipan etc I just wouldn’t expect a pie flavour. Never had a problem with this dessert – both its appearance and its taste. Most comment on the intensity and trueness of apple flavour.

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