By Cheryl Shaffer, Chef Instructor
Hi Food Friends;
How many of us associate memories in our lives with a particular food? Hands up- yes, I see the wheels turning and the corners of your mouth turning up as the ghost of a memory crosses your mind. We all have the ability to close our eyes and allow the whiff of a special holiday meal immediately take us back in time. Perhaps a meal with all of the extended family gathered round the table, a special place you’d get together for a Friday night after school and work are done for the week, Sunday dinners, Monday meatloaf, a visit to Grandma’s kitchen for cookies. For my kids in the later part of their high school years, when times were tight for us, we’d splurge and sit around the table at the sandwich shop at the local gas station, sharing a meal and laughing, catching up on each other’s lives. The location rarely mattered, only that we were together. The cohesive theme through all of the times is the figurative bread we broke together, sharing good food and of ourselves. Moments in time, gone in a flash, but brought back in an instant with the wafting of the scent of fresh bread on the air as you drive past a bakery; the memory of a great pie when a pizza delivery car zooms past you in traffic; the taste of a cookie sample, fresh from the oven when you visit our store.
The neat thing about memories and food, at least for me, is that you don’t have to have an exact replica of the original in order to invoke the memory flood. The smell of yeast alone, not yet combined with sugars, flour, eggs and butter, is enough to lead me to more than half a dozen wonderful visions of family and friends from the past, and the love poured into so many diverse recipes. People who live on only within my heart, people I see regularly, and even those from the realm of books and movies, who touched my life so profoundly- even though perhaps they never took a breath of air- their impact on my life is real to me. One sniff and the floodgates open, the smiles begin.
Today I want to share a recipe I cobbled together from the memories of times I shared cooking with my Mom.
To begin with the tarts, you’ll want to get your shell crust ready first because it requires chilling time in the refrigerator or the freezer. I tripled the recipe in order to make enough shells. These measurements are for a TRIPLED recipe.
3 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons sugar
18 tablespoons cold butter – cut it into small pieces
¾ cup vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons vodka – to keep the crust tender and flaky
6 tablespoons iced water
In a large chilled bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Using a pastry tool, cut in the butter and shortening, until all of the flour is coated, and you have small pebbles of dough. You can also do this in a food processor, just use the pulse feature, short bursts, until everything is incorporated, but not over done. Be careful that you don’t over mix because you risk making the gluten fibers too strong with the flour and over heating the butter / shortening will keep the crust from staying tender and flaky. Remember: we’re making a pastry crust, not bread, so we don’t want to overwork our dough.
Next add the vodka and water, and using a non-stick spatula, you’ll want to fold the dough over on itself, and press down. Your dough is going to be super sticky, not like a regular pie crust dough. Have your tart shell mold ready, and put about 2 tablespoons of dough into each mold, or just enough to be able to use a pie tamper to press the dough into the mold and up the sides. Continue until all of your shells are formed. Cover the molds with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator or freezer while you are making the filling.
It’s important not to skip this step because you want your tarts to be cold before you put them into a hot oven, so that the heat will cause the butter / shortening and alcohol to rapidly expand and puff out the flour, trapping little pockets of air, giving you an extra light crust.
Here are a few alternative recipes that make equally delicious crust:
This is my friend, Sybil Robertson's Pastry Recipe. I would double it, to use for the apple tarts:
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup lard
1 cup Crisco
1 egg, slightly beaten, in a cup
2 tsp. vinegar
Combine dry ingredients and blend in shortening with a pastry blender. Fill cup with beaten egg, vinegar, and with cold water and mix into the dry ingredients with a fork. Mold slightly and chill. Roll out as desired.
And- if you prefer not to use lard, here is a third choice:
2 1/4 cup Crisco shortening (butter flavor)
5 cups flour
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vinegar
In a bowl, combine dry ingredients. Blend with a pastry blender until it forms pea sized balls. Beat egg in a one cup measuring cup. Add vinegar and fill the cup with cold water. Pour over the flour mixture and blend to form a ball. Chill 1-2 hours (or until it can easily be rolled out).
** DO NOT KNEAD TOO MUCH - or the crust will become tough.
This recipe will yield 4-5 pie crusts, depending on pan size, or enough dough to use all the caramel apple filling for tarts.
Now that your tart duty is out of the way, it’s time to get down to the truly fun part of the dessert: making the caramel apple filling. Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
Caramel Apple Filling:
6-8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced uniformly, approximately ¼” thick
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 stick butter, divided
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg (fresh grated tastes so much better than already ground in a jar – you’ll appreciate the flavor and fragrance)
½ tsp. ground ginger
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
Wash, core and peel your apples, a variety if you have them, choosing some that aren’t too sweet. I would not recommend Red Delicious, as they don’t hold up well with cooking.
In a large saute pan, (I used a 14” Swiss Diamond for non-stick and ease of clean up), melt half of the butter over medium high heat and add the apple slices. Sprinkle the spices and brown sugar over top and allow them to cook until the apples are softened and the sauce is starting to thicken. This might take about 20 minutes, depending upon how firm your apples were to start.
Once the apples are softened, add the cream and vanilla extract. Now this is the tricky part. You’re going to want your sauce to not be too thin, and be able to set-up in the tart shell like a pie. A lot depends on how your apples cook down. If the sauce appears too thin, you can add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch mixed in 1 tablespoon of cold heavy cream. Add the mixture to the apples while stirring. This step is going to take a couple of minutes, as the cream / cornstarch is brought up to temperature, but should thicken up beautifully.
Once you have your caramel apple mixture cooked, to let it cool for about 20 minutes. Preheat your oven for 350’F. Pull the tart shells out of the refrigerator or freezer, and spoon the cooled mixture into the tarts, about ¾ from the top. Bake in the oven until the tarts are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool and remove from the tart mold. These are great served with ice cream or a little bit of heavy cream poured over the top, with a light grating of nutmeg. Enjoy!