For those on my Facebook author’s page who asked for the recipe, here’s the free-form apple tart that’s pictured there. This was the first apple pie I ever made after I was grown and had my own kitchen. It’s from the first Julia Child cookbook I owned, From Julia Child’s Kitchen (1975), and it has been my standard apple pie ever since.
It’s such an easy thing to make and it never fails to impress.
The base is a standard French pastry, every easily made using the food processor. If you’ve never made it, just practice until you get it right: it’s not expensive and there’s nothing magic in the technique. But if you are still pastry-challenged or really pressed for time, you can make it with ready-made puff pastry.
Julia’s Free-Form French Apple Tart
Nowadays I use cinnamon sugar to sprinkle over the pastry and the fruit. I keep a shaker of it handy: it’s just a rounded tablespoon of cinnamon and a cup of sugar shaken together until it’s evenly mixed.
Serves 4 to 6
2 recipes Food Processor Pâte Brisée (recipe follows)
About ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3-4 large, firm crisp cooking apples
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup strained apricot jam
1. Roll out about 2/3 of the pastry into a rectangle about 12 by 14 inches, 1/8-inch thick. Roll it loosely onto the rolling pin and then unroll onto buttered baking sheet. Roll out enough of the remaining dough to cut ¾-inch wide strips to cover edges of tart twice. Brush the edges of the crust lightly with cold water and lay the wide strips of dough over it, overlapping the ends, and trim off the excess. Brush edge strips with water and repeat with remaining strips. Refrigerate while preparing apples, at least 20 minutes.
2. Position a rack in the center of oven and preheat to 450° F. Put the lemon juice and 1 cup water in a bowl. Peel, core, and cut the apples into even 1/8-inch slices, tossing each in lemon water as you go. Sprinkle the pastry thickly with sugar. Drain and arrange apples in overlapping, alternating rows on pastry. Sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar, reserving 2 tablespoons for the glaze.
3. Bake 20 minutes, or until sides have risen and begun to brown. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake 20 minutes more, or until apples are tender and crust is golden and crisp. Meanwhile, melt the jam with 2 tablespoons sugar over medium-low heat. Simmer until the last droplets falling from the spoon are sticky and thick, about 3 to 5 minutes. When the tart is done, let it cool slightly and then brush its entire surface with glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Food Processor Pâte Brisée
Unless you have a very large machine, when a doubled recipe is needed, don’t double it at once, but make two batches, one at a time.
Makes enough for 2 9-inch pie shells
8 ounces (about 1-3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small bits
2 tablespoons chilled lard or vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
About 1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water
1. Chill the steel blade of the food processor in the freezer for 5 minutes. Insert it into the machine, add the flour and salt, and pulse to sift. Add the butter and lard and process to texture of coarse meal with lumps no bigger than small peas. Pulse in the water a little at a time, starting with 1/4 cup, until it is just holding together. You may not need all of it.
2. Turn the dough out onto floured work surface and finish blending by hand, pressing and pushing the dough away from you with heal of your hand, sprinkling on more water if needed (it should be malleable but not sticky). Gather pastry into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and chill at least 20 minutes.
Note: for a sweet pastry, add a tablespoon of sugar along with the flour and salt. This tart doesn't need it, but it's nice for some pastries without as sweet a filling as this one.