Now, you may be thinking, “Applet Tartine? What is that? What’s an applet?” Frankly, It’s just an apple tart, or a tarte aux pommes, or any other combination of names you’d like to transcribe to a particular dessert. My flourless chocolate torte, for example, could just as easily be called a flourless chocolate cake, a sunken chocolate cake, or a chocolate souffle cake because of its volume created from the aeration of egg whites. The point of the matter is I simply like the pairing of the word tartine with my neologistic appelet – a cute, quirky, derivation of the world apple with a suffix attached that denotes a sense of petite stature. Just as many a chef has taken one element from a common dessert and substituted another of their choice to make the dessert personally their own, I have taken a classic dessert, added my own twists, and have endowed it with a name I see fit.
The apple tart is utterly classic, dating back to medieval times, when pastry shells were often just vessels for the inside ingredients, thrown away just like parchment paper! Good thing today we know how crucial an excellent pastry crust is, and thank goodness the French fiddled around with the apple tart enough to master its delivery. Fiddling aside, the best kinds of apple dessert are usually the ones with no frill, no gaudy showmanship, just the clean and pure presentation of a fresh fruit cooked, baked, simmered, sauteed to its most aggrandized, most apotheosized state. But when we do extravagant things to an apple dessert – and let’s face it, we love to embellish – it is best kept to a minimum, usually something creamy, something with a hint of mouth-warming liqueur, to perfectly accent the texture and tartness of the fruit in all its juicy perfection. Hence the classic pairing of vanilla ice cream with apple desserts!
Surprisingly, I found when I made a creamy egg and milk based custard, I found it so rich as to be overwhelming rather than balancing when baked atop the open-faced tart. It seems a custard accompaniment would best be served as a creme anglais sauce to be drizzled alongside the finished dessert. However, I was not to be deterred; I was adamant there was a way to bake a custard on top of the tart, ensuring that curious dichotomy of having the flavors cooked and melded together, and yet distinctly separate, complementing. I remember yawning, flipping through cookbooks for inspiration – from Biba’s Italian Kitchen to Ani Pyho’s Raw Food Desserts – finding no inspiration really, as of yet, when it dawned on me like a thunderbolt in clear blue sky. My brain firing synapses at machine gun rates I typed on my wordpad under the heading “Custard Ideas” one single word: TOFU.
I still find it curious, and wholly unsurprising, that the greatest shortcoming of many a chef is their inability to think outside of the classic compositional box. Sure, chefs will dabble with exotic fruits here, some sugar spinning there, and strange designs, flavor pairings, a whole medley of seemingly implausible and downright frightening ideas that often leave more than a worrisome expression on a customer’s face (we’ll discuss incontinence aftermath another time), but when a chef trained in the classic Cordon Bleu or French technique thinks “custard,” he will always think eggs, milk, sugar, flavoring. It’s grounded technique. He will rarely, if ever, think of committing the blasphemous act of contaminating his custard with such an ingredient as the woebegone tofu. That’s generally pooh-poohed as the delegation of vegans or vegetarians; blaise food for the inspid and unimaginative. But tofu is the scrappy underdog of the food universe, stunted and of a sickly pallor based on all appearances, bullied into submission by his alleged superior protein peers, but when it comes to absorbing flavors of any kind, he is a black hole cornucopia unto himself, able to slyly adapt like a chameleon to any foreign cocktail. No, tofu was the perfect ingredient for my custard.
Feel free to adapt this recipe to your taste, but find yourself pleasantly surprised by the underwhelming medley of ingredients in this wonderful tartine, where the down-home feel of apple pie is met with Far East tofu.
1 1/2 cups pastry flour
4 oz butter, cubed
2 tbsp – 1/4 cup water
Cinnamon Pastry Creme:
6 oz silken tofu
1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk (or milk, ricemilk, nutmilk)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
5 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, wedge sliced
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter
Place the flour in a mixing bowl and cut the butter in until the mix resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle in the ice water until the dough just holds together. Refrigerate for one hour before using. Meanwhile, butter a 9″ tart shell pan. Once the dough is firm press it into the buttered pan and poke holes in the bottom with a fork so the bottom won’t bubble up. Blind bake* the crust in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes (*blind bake means to line with parchment paper or foil and fill with beans or rice or another form of weight). Let cool for 15 minutes.
To make the cinnamon pastry creme, just place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to smooth.
Next, mix the apples with the butter and sugar in a large skillet set over medium heat. Cook the apples until they soften, then remove from the pan and continue simmering the juices to a nice syrup. Pour over the cooked apples and then let cool. Pour the cooked apple filling into the bottom of the tart shell and then pour the cinnamon pastry creme on top.
Bake the tart at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, or until the custard begins to set – it should still wobble slightly. Remove from the oven and cool. This dessert is showcased best with a do-it-yourself brulee topping you can easily achieve by sprinkling the baked custard with sugar and then placing it on the top rack of your oven to broil for several minutes. Voila, glamor factor multiplied.