October 9, 2019

Dear friends,
The sultry apple tart was a no-show. It languishes on my kitchen counter, all dressed up with no place to go.

I don’t eat desserts and considered disobeying instructions and taking an appetizer or a salad to a big Beacon Journal newsroom reunion Saturday but in the end I couldn’t resist making something gorgeous. Nothing is as fun to make as dessert, where frills and folderol aren’t just tolerated but expected.

I made an apple tart with a cinnamon-ginger filling pre-cooked and piled in a buttery tart crust. Pre-cooking prevents the filling from shrinking in the oven. I baked the tart shell for 10 minutes before spooning in the filling in order to prevent a soggy bottom crust.

Then I wove a lattice top crust and brushed it with egg wash, strictly for looks. After it baked, I made some caramel that I drizzled on the finished tart. It was a beaut.

Somewhere between peeling the apples and rolling out the dough, I got sick. By the time the caramel went on the top, I didn’t care whether anyone ever ate the dang thing. I snapped a photo and went to bed.

The reunion came and went. I looked at photos on Facebook of my far-flung friends and former colleagues — Beacon Journal legends such as Chuck Ayers, Andy Zajac, Charlene Nevada and Bill O’Connor. No one missed my tart, but I missed seeing those folks. The episode reminded me that people, not food, is the magic ingredient in any gathering. And the incredibly talented, witty people I worked with for so many years were indeed magic.

P.S.:
The tart was pretty good.

CARAMEL-APPLE TART

Dough:
3 1/3 cups flour
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 sticks (20 tbsp.) unsalted butter
4 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla
4 tsp. ice water
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

Apple Filling
5 large or 6 medium apples (Golden Delicious or Granny Smith)
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. powdered ginger
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla

Caramel:
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

Make each component before assembling and baking the tart.

For the dough:
Whisk flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and toss with flour. With a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse meal. You may use your fingertips instead of a pastry blender, but do not knead the mixture.

Stir together egg yolks, vanilla and water. Blend into the flour mixture with a fork, adding more water if necessary for the dough to cling together when pinched. Shape two-thirds of dough into a ball, then flatten to a disk. Shape remaining dough into a disk. Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

On a floured surface, working with the larger piece of dough, break off fist-sized hunks of dough and smear away from you with the heel of your hand. When all of the dough has been smeared, gather again into a ball. Repeat with smaller piece of dough. Re-wrap and chill again for at least 1 hour.

Roll out larger piece of dough to a 12-inch circle between two sheets of plastic wrap. Line a 10-inch, removable-bottom tart pan with the dough, easing the dough into bottom and up the sides and tucking the excess between the side of the pan and the dough lining the sides. (You could make do with a 10-inch springform pan). Prick the tart shell all over with a fork. Chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake tart shell for 10 minutes (chilling makes weighting the dough unnecessary). Remove from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Spread apple filling evenly in tart shell. Roll out remaining dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips. Make a lattice crust with the strips, trimming and tucking in the overhang. For ease, weave the strips only at the edges, not the middle of the tart.

Brush the lattice with the egg wash. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, until pastry is golden brown. Cool tart, then drizzle the warm caramel over the top by drizzling from a spoon in a back-and-forth sweeping motion. You will not need all of the caramel. Remove sides of tart pan to serve. Makes one 10-inch tart.

For the filling:
Peel, quarter and core apples. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in apples and lemon juice. Stir in sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Cover and cook about 6 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Uncover pan and sift in cornstarch, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until apples are almost tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Set aside.

For the caramel:
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Scrape sweetened condensed milk into a pie pan, cover tightly with foil and place in a larger baking pan such as an oblong cake pan. Pour in enough simmering water to come halfway up the sides of pie pan. Do not allow foil to dip into the water. Bake on middle oven rack for 1 1/2 hours, adding more water halfway through if necessary. Remove from water, uncover and cool. Refrigerate if making the caramel in advance.

After apple tart has cooled, microwave a half cup of the caramel in 10-second intervals until it flows easily from a spoon. Drizzle the caramel in sweeping strokes over the tart. reserve remaining caramel for another use.

Note: If you have easy access to a Latin market, you can buy ready-made dulce de leche in a can.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Tuna salad; chicken and Delicata squash stir fry with cauliflower rice; fried mush and scrambled egg; sheet pan chicken tenders with roasted tomatoes, zucchini, onion and peppers; a caramel-apple tart.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Chicken and roast vegetable paleo dinner from Earth Fare; chicken and rice soup and a turkey-bacon club sandwich at Magic City’s Remarkable Diner in Barberton; a double hamburger (the Laddie) with Parmesan-garlic fries at Wise Guys in Akron; a steak salad with Gorgonzola cheese at D’Agnese’s in Akron; a Thai chicken salad and baguette at Panera Bread; a ham and pineapple pizza from Rizzi’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Copley.

THE MAILBAG
From Marlene M.:
Major kudos to Luis M. for the recommendation of Don Quijote restaurant near Belden Village. We tried it and he was spot on with the paella and shrimp in garlic sauce. Even my anti-garlic hubby loved the shrimp! The lemon in the sauce and golden, crispy garlic pieces were so good. And the texture of the shrimp was perfect. The paella was superb! The best calamari, mussels and clams — small and so tender — and the seasoning was addictive. The portion was huge.

We also tried the tetilla cheese and Tortilla Espanola — the famous Spanish dish of sliced potatoes and onions. The tortilla was delicious. It was a generous 3- to 4-inch-high wedge. The pitcher of sangria, lobster bisque, caramel flan and tres leches cake were all really good, too. Thanks again to Luis. We had a tasty time.

Dear Marlene:
Wow, great review. Now I can’t wait to go.

From Theresa K.:
Your corn meal mush recipe sounds wonderful and I plan to try it when things cool off a bit here in North Carolina. My mother loved fried mush. She grew up on it in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Her grandmother made it for her. One thing her grandmother made that we always enjoyed were “scratchbacks,” or corn pone. Mother would make a stiff dough out of white corn meal, salt, bacon drippings and hot water. She would plop it by large spoonfuls onto a greased sheet pan (with more bacon drippings) and bake in a hot oven at 425 degrees until crispy on the outside. They would be soft inside and we would slather them with butter. Oh, my! They were good, especially with fried apples and ham.

Dear Theresa:
You just gave us a lovely little piece of regional culinary history. Thank you for sharing your memories.

From Jim Switzer:
It’s almost time for Friends of the Main Library Big Book Sale. I mention it to you because we will have hundreds of cookbooks available at really good prices (a dollar or two for many). There will be thousands of other books, of course.

The sale is Thursday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the lobby and bookstore at the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s main library. There’s free parking (an hour on Thursday and Friday, all day on Saturday) in the city garage at the corner of High and Market streets in downtown Akron. Even if you have sworn off cookbooks, stop by for a mystery or two — or 10 — or beach reads for the next time you head to Florida.

Dear Jim:
What a sale! I may have gotten rid of a bunch of cookbooks, but I have been steadily buying replacements. I can’t help myself. See you next week.

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