The simplest of homemade organic apple tarts

Here is the simplest recipe of a yummy and nutritious organic apple tart I can think of, an interpretation of the French tarte fine aux pommes. Its vegan variant remains to be tested.

I have tested a simpler version of my recipe of an apple tart good for the body, the mind and the planet, removing the layer of compote (dessert apple sauce). My aim was to find an easier and faster recipe. I was inspired by blogger and pastry chef David Lebovitz’s version of the tarte fine aux pommes1, a delicacy found in many French bakeries.

The tarte fine aux pommes was well named. It is literally thin, the first meaning of the French word fine (pronounced “fin”). But it also conveys some of the other meanings of the word in my view. To me, this dessert evidences the wit, subtlety and elegance of the minds of the cooks who created it. ‘These thin apple tarts are French baking at its most basic, and at its best’, David Lebovitz writes. I couldn’t agree more. I imagine the housekeepers and the bakers who devised and improved this recipe generation after generation and pleased so many mouths with this simple, yummy and nutritious dessert. It is therefore my great pleasure today to celebrate this icon of accessible everyday French cuisine.

As for the organic element of my recipe, it enables people to move towards healthier and more sustainable ways of eating.

Time constraints unexpectedly led me to speed up the making process. I had to find even quicker ways of making the tart, which fortunately worked well. Here is the story of the experiment, followed by the recipe.

The experiment

It was presidential election day here in France on Sunday 10 April. I was invited for lunch at my neighbours’. I was to bring a dessert. It was an opportunity to test David Lebovitz’s recipe of the tarte fine aux pommes. It only required basic cooking skills and simple kitchen utensils, which I found interesting. I decided to take pictures and publish the result in Les Jardins d’ici.

I had little time on that day. I knew that completing both experimentation and picture taking within two hours was ambitious, even more as I still had a few things to buy. I had already purchased the apples on Saturday at a farmers’ market, but I wanted to use a cheese and vegetable grater to ease the pastry-making process as I did in the UK on 1st January. I didn’t have one here. Fortunately, I found one in a local supermarket, which I paid 5.45€ for (£4.55). I also bought a pastry brush for 3.50€ (£2.90).

Having completed my purchases, I thought about the cooking steps and the images I needed, and set up a photo-shoot in my aunt’s kitchen, more naturally lit than mine, with what I had at hand. I brought the ingredients and utensils from the floor below. It is amazing how many times one can go up and down the stairs in such circumstances! All these operations took more time than expected. Noon had already passed when I found myself ready to kick off.

Cooking table and photo-shooting system
The cooking table and the improvised photo shooting system. Photo 11 April 2022, Aurillac, France.

I had called my friends to let them know I would arrive at 13h15 instead of 12h30, and I didn’t want to make them wait any longer. Here is what happened next:

12h10: I take the first picture and I re-read David Lebovitz’s post. I realise that his recipe requires to leave the pastry in the fridge overnight. I don’t even have time to leave it in the fridge for thirty minutes to an hour, what I usually do. 

I decide to process the pastry without leaving it to mature in the fridge. I master this pastry rather well, so I estimate it shouldn’t be too much of a risk. It is an interesting experiment because if it works well, it will be evidence that preparation time can be even shorter. In any case, I have no other solution.

12h20: I begin to make the pastry. I go fast. Making and spreading takes no more than five minutes. I first measure the quantity of flour, then estimate the quantity of butter by eye when opening the block. A quick grating and the cold butter is ready to use. This technique definitely saves time.

I then mix the flour, the butter and the pinch of salt in a bowl with the tips of the fingers. I add some water, mix again quickly, add a bit more of it because the dough crumbles a bit, and form the bowl. I directly spread it on a sheet of baking paper. No need to use a tart pan. The tart won’t be fully round but how important is that? I sprinkled flour on the rolling pin and the sheet of baking paper to avoid stickiness. Spreading the pastry right away brings two benefits: there is no need to wait, and it is easier to smoosh than with a hardened bowl of dough coming out the fridge.

Then I cut the apples with a small knife, without peeling them. I had found a cultivar with thin skins, called Chantecler. Cutting the wedges thin would make the skins even more palatable while keeping their nutritive and taste qualities, as mentioned in my previous post. This step was the most time consuming. I should have used the blade part of the grater! It would have saved a few more minutes.

12h40: the tart is in the oven for thirty minutes. I had pre-heated it to 180°C but put the thermostat to 200°C, and turned the fan on after a while for the tart to cook faster.

David Lebovitz adds a jam topping once the tart is cooked, which is part of the traditional tarte fine aux pommes recipe. We often do that in my family. We particularly like to top our tarts with quince jelly. I didn’t have any, so I chose a jar of my homemade apricot jam, which I slightly diluted with warm water.

Adding a jam topping is quick, but optional. You might prefer to just sprinkle icing sugar over the tart, or leave it as it is. You can then fully taste the apples, which can be quite good when the tart is made with perfectly ripe garden apples.

13H10: tart taken out of the oven, pictured, topping added with the pastry brush (it was a good idea to buy it, it saves time), second picture taken… and I dash off to my neighbours’ place! I arrive less than five minutes late.

One of my two hosts happens to originate from Normandy, where they know well about apple desserts… the tart passed the test. I was even surprised how good the pastry was. I will therefore write the final recipe without including the dough maturation step in the fridge.

This is the simplest recipe of a tart with homemade pastry I could think of. Two main ingredients (flour and butter, or margarine for the vegan variant), a third if you add a topping, dough rolled out right-away (still to be tested for the vegan variant), no tart pan, no apple peeling, ten to fifteen minutes preparation and thirty minutes in the oven when you only need to check for the pastry to become golden brown.

What could be simpler? Using a ready-made pastry sheet, of course. It wouldn’t be fully homemade then, and probably not fully organic, but the busiest of cooks would certainly find this a convenient alternative. Any other ways?

The recipe (serves six)

Ingredients: 100g of organic butter, chilled, 150g of organic plain white flour, a pinch of salt, 600g of organic apples).

Vegan variant: use margarine instead of butter. I haven’t tested this variant yet. In the meantime, I would advise that you make a quick puff pastry using David Lebovitz’s method, and that you leave it to mature in the fridge as he recommends. For your information, traditional French puff pastry is vegan as it is normally made with vegetable fat. 

Utensils: a knife, a flat cheese/vegetable grater, a sheet of baking paper, a bowl to mix butter and flour, a smaller bowl to dilute the jam (if you add a jam topping), a glass to add water, a rolling pin or a glass bottle full of liquid, a scaling tool, a spoon and a pastry brush (optional, pictured in another photo). 

Kitchen utensils
Utensils laid on a 36×42 cm sheet of baking paper. Directly placed on the oven grid, the sheet of paper enables to avoid using a tart pan. Photo 10 April 2022.

Cooking:

Put the flour and the salt in the bowl. Grate the chilled butter with the big holes of the grater, above the bowl. Mix quickly with the tip of your fingers. Avoid kneading. Add two to three cm3 of cold water and mix again. Add another cm3 if needed. Quickly form the bowl of dough.

Flour and butter in a bowl
Flour, salt and butter ready to be mixed.
Bowl of dough
The bowl of dough ready to be smooshed and rolled out.

Smoosh the bowl of dough with the palm of your hand on the sheet of baking paper. It is easy as the dough did not harden in the fridge. The sheet of paper and the rolling pin will have previously been sprinkled with flour. Then roll out with the rolling pin. The pastry is ready. It took me five minutes to complete this step.

Smooshed dough
The dough, directly smooshed on the sheet of baking paper is now ready to be rolled out.
Rolled out pastry sheet
Rolled out. The round is uneven, but does that matter? It saves time!
Apples and pastry brush
Excess flour was removed with the pastry brush (optional). Top right: Chantecler apples with a soft skin and flesh. Top left: I also used a bit more juicy and acidic red Dalinette.

Cut the apples in quarters, core them. Cut thin wedges with the grater if it has a blade or with the knife, and arrange them on the pastry, overlapping on the edges. The tart is ready to be put in the oven. It took me approximately ten minutes to complete this step using a knife. The grater would have been faster. Beware of the blade though, it is sharp!

Arranged apple wedges
The apple wedges follow the uneven shape of the pastry sheet. This gives me an idea: create a food education animation where attendees, for instance children, would shape their tarts as they like.

Baking:

Pre-heat the oven at 200°C. Put the sheet of baking paper with the tart directly on the oven’s grid. Cooking time thirty minutes. Take the tart out when the pastry is golden brown.

Cooked tart, plain
The tart is ready to be eaten plain. Enjoy the crusty pastry combined with the natural taste of the apples.

Topping (optional but part of the traditional tarte fine recipe): 

A jam topping is the usual finishing touch brought to the tarte fine. It will add moisture, making the dessert more succulent.

Dilute the jam or the jelly in a bowl with a spoon, then spread it over the apples with the spoon or the pastry brush. The tarte fine is fully ready. You can eat it with vanilla ice cream for instance, however it is already very good just like this!

Jam topping in a bowl
I diluted three large spoons of apricot jam with some warm water. Other jams or jellies can be used, such as quince, plum or red currant. You can also replace the jam by something else. Be creative!
Cooked tart with apple jam topping
The tart as I brought it to my neighbours. Some juice spilled and caramelized during the baking. It didn’t stick: the tart was easily moved to the dish that we used to display the dessert on the dinner table.

Cost

Shopping carried out on 9 and 10 April 2022.

Groceries: (purchased in a supermarket)
One 250g block of unsalted organic butter: 2.51€ (100g used in the tart = 1€ = £0.83).
Vegan variant: the organic margarine was at the same price as the butter.
One kilo of organic plain white flour: 1.39€ (150g used in the tart = 0.20€ = £0.17)
Total groceries: £1

Apples: 600g of organic apples purchased at 3.90€ per kilo at a local farmers’ market = 2.34€ = £2

Energy : 30 minutes in the oven at 200°C = £0.40 ? 

Total cost of the tart: around £3.50 including the energy and a topping.
If you use your own apples : £1.50.

Worth it? Definitely yes in my view!


References :

  1. https://www.davidlebovitz.com/apple-tart-tarte-fine-aux-pommes-recipe-french-pastry-puff/ (accessed 17 April 2022)

3 thoughts on “The simplest of homemade organic apple tarts

  1. Someone rightly told me that the tart is not fully organic. I have just found out that organic baking paper do exist, at a cost of around 10p per sheet. Thank you for this comment, which enables me to improve the recipe!

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