Winter arrived in Cleveland a little early and abruptly with last week's cold snap. So, instead of the normal weekend chores of gardening and raking leaves, this past Saturday was spent gazing out the window at a surprisingly snowy yard. While sipping coffee and surfing the web, I stumbled upon a newly edited version of Norah Ephron's wonderful film Julie & Julia. In this clever little "half of a movie" entitled simply & Julia, all the Julie parts have been neatly edited out. What remains is the uninterrupted, hour-long story of Julia Child, her adoring husband Paul, and their adventures in 1950's Paris when Julia was discovering her palate, learning to cook and laying the culinary foundations that would launch her infamous career. Watching this charming little version of the movie reminded me of just how inspiring Julia Child's story is. And of course, it made me hungry for French food.
After perusing both volumes of Julia's "masterpiece", Mastering the Art of French Cooking, my husband and I headed to the West Side Market. The beautiful scallops we found there settled it -- dinner would be Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc. And with a fridge full of apples, I knew dessert would have to be this simple apple tart inspired by another favorite French cook and author, Patricia Wells.
For years, I've been relying on Wells' recipe for Lionel Poilane's Apple Tart from her book, Bistro Cooking. I'm always tweeking and modifying recipes to suit my mood, the season, or the ingredients I have on hand and my experiments don't always work out. But this one was a success. I substituted locally grown buckwheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour in the crust which resulted in a nutty flavor and a pleasantly sandy, crumbly texture that paired with the buttery, caramelized apples perfectly as did the addition of cardamom.
The crust for this tart is a basic pâte sucrée made from butter. I make it in a food processor which I find to be quick and foolproof when I've been sure to chill all the ingredients ahead of time. You can also make it using a pastry cutter, a couple of butter knives, or working quickly with just your fingers, in the traditional manner that Julia Child would prefer.
Cardamom-Scented Apple Tart with Buckwheat Crust
For the Buckwheat Pâte Sucrée:
1/2 cup buckwheat flour*
1/2 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
7 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces
2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3-4 tbsp ice water
Place the buckwheat flour and 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour, the butter, sugar and salt, in a food processor. Process until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, about 10-15 seconds. Add the ice water and pulse 6-8 times until the pastry just begins to hold together. Do not let it form a ball. Transfer dough to a piece of parchment paper and flatten into a disk. If the dough seems to sticky, sprinkle it with additional flour, incorporating 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap in parchment and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
For the Cardamom-Scented Apple Filling:
4-6 good sized baking apples (about 1 1/2 lbs, I used Melrose)
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425F.
Remove pastry from the refrigerator. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out dough into a 12" circle. Place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and return to the refrigerator until ready to bake.
Peel and core the apples. Cut each apple into 12 even wedges. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When it's hot but not smoking, add the apples, sprinkle on the granulated sugar, and cardamom and sauté until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pastry from the refrigerator. Place the apples in the center. Fold the edges of the dough over the apples to form a 1-inch border. Brush the border with beaten egg. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
Bake the tart for 30 minutes until the apples are tender and the crust is golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream if you or a scoop of salty caramel ice cream.
*Locally grown buckwheat flour is available from Stutzman Farms. They can be found on Saturday mornings at the North Union Farmer's Market at Shaker Square.