The Red Hen is a small restaurant, so we feel pretty lucky to have an in-house pastry chef. Her name is Becca Adams and she is the wife of Chef Matt. This fall she has been baking apple tarts. Sometimes they are on the menu and sometimes not. If you happen to dine here when they are on the menu, you are in for a treat.
Recently, we photographed Becca making her tarts, and we asked her to give us some commentary. We thought you might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at restaurant baking:
Granny Smiths are my comfort zone because they are so consistently crisp and tart--a great formula for delicious apple pie and tart. That being said, I would love to find a local apple that fits that bill. So the first step is to chop the apples. It will be about one and a half apples per tart. Notice I am not peeling, which is a decision I make for flavor, texture and nutrition.
I chop the apples as evenly as possible, but it's not so much chopping as slicing. I want full slices of apple because I cook them before putting them in the tart, so I don't want tiny pieces that turn to applesauce. I mix the slices in a bowl. I add a quarter cup of brown sugar and a quarter cup of white sugar for ten apple's worth of slices (which will make six tarts). Then I add a big pinch of salt, two teaspoons of cinnamon, and the zest and juice of one lemon. I toss it all together in a bowl until it's well-distributed. At this point, I taste one of the coated apple pieces--and so should you! Is it sweet enough? Tart enough? Cinnamon-y enough? If not, adjust to your liking. Then I do a low, slow cooking (30 minutes on low) of the mixture on the stove top in a Dutch oven, stirring occasionally. Contrary to what you might think, this actually helps the apples hold their crispness. It also kick starts the melding of flavors before the actual baking process.
I love doing the individual tarts rather than a pie, because I feel you get a better crust-to-fruit ratio. Sometimes the pastry can take a back seat, but I prefer it to be more prominent--maybe because I am a pastry chef! Given that, the chemistry of the crust is really important, and the mixing method has a lot to do with that. I like to use a food processor and very cold butter. Acid is also very important in this process, and my acid of choice in this particular recipe is white wine. The recipe is as follows:
2.5 sticks of butter (cubed and cold)
3.5 Tablespoons water (cold)
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon white wine (cold)
3.5 Cups all purpose flour
7 teaspoons sugar
.5 teaspoons salt
pinch of baking powder
I use a food processor for this recipe. That way, the dough does not get over worked and you don't develop the gluten, therefore avoiding a chewy crust.
Combine flour, sugar, salt and powder in the processor and pulse until well aerated and combined.
Then, add the cold butter, pulsing the machine several times until the butter is crumbled into pea sized pieces.
Then, add the cold water and wine. Pulse the machine until the dough comes together.
Place in plastic wrap, bringing all the dough together and fridge for a half an hour before rolling. When it's ready, I roll it out. Then I cut out a little circle of crust for a tart and place it in the tin.
Then I fill the tin with the cooked fruit, mounding it generously.
And I top it off with a small amount of juice from the cooking process.
Then I use a pizza cutter to cut out strips in the dough. I make them about a quarter inch wide.
Then I start the weaving process. Yes, instead of just laying the strips on top of each other, I actually weave them. I think it's important for the aesthetics.
As you can see, I've gone over and under and over and under. Then I gently press the edges down into the tart tin.
Then I brush the tart with an egg wash. To do this, I crack an egg in a little bowl and briskly whisk with a couple of drops of water. Then I use a pastry brush to gently coat the lattice. Now we are ready to bake. I put it into a hot oven (425 degrees. You want that initial blast of heat to steam the butter in the pastry dough to create the tender flakes. I leave the tart in 425 degree heat for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 400, cooking until the tart is golden brown and bubbly (about 25 minutes--roughly 40 minutes for the entire process.)
Let cool and enjoy--with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.