Daylight Saving may have come to an end, but Neva isn’t buying it. She tucked her furry nose under my chin Sunday morning at 5:30, probably wondering why I was 30 minutes late taking her outside and feeding her dinner (breakfast). By 5:30 in the evening, she was sitting politely in the great room, staring at the empty space next to her water dish where her dinner is typically served 30 minutes later. I’m not sure if Neva cues off the light of day or her little doggy tummy, but Mountain Standard Time apparently has no bearing on her feeding schedule. It sure FEELS like fall with the shortening days, but we aren’t getting the snow necessary for things like skiing, ski season, ski resorts, and did I mention SKIING?! But alas, if I can’t ski, I can most certainly bake. I made the most of our lack of snow when I received two packages in the mail a few weeks ago: a review copy of Irvin Lin’s first book, Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, and two dozen beautiful Pink Lady and Piñata apples from Stemilt Growers.
irvin’s beautiful baking book
pink ladies ready for some dessert-making
Marbled, Swirled, and Layered is packed with gorgeous and exciting recipes. Irvin is a truly skilled baker with a great eye for aesthetics as well as a creative flare for fun and refreshing flavor combinations. He walks you through each baked creation with clear instructions, but all of them involve multiple components made from scratch – an ideal book for people who love to bake and those wanting to take their baking to the next level. It was tough deciding which recipe to make from Irvin’s book. I dog-eared a couple dozen, but I was ultimately drawn to the apple brown butter tart. Believe it or not, I had been recipe testing some apple brown butter tarts when the book and the apples arrived, but Irvin’s version was adorned with lovely apple roses and the brown butter filling was spiced with all manner of warm autumn flavors. Let’s start with the crust.
flour, whole wheat flour, butter, rum, egg yolks, salt, sugar
whisk the dry ingredients together
add the cold butter and toss to coat
squeeze the butter cubes into butter flakes
The crust recipe is pretty straightforward and not terribly messy as long as your work area is cool and your hands are cool or cold. Once things warm up, it’s harder to handle the butter and the dough will become sticky. I found the dough easy to work with and rolled it out between two sheets of plastic wrap. I do this because it’s easy to transfer the dough to the tart pan and because my hands usually warm up after I use the rolling pin, so it keeps the butter in the dough from melting and sticking to me.
whisk egg yolks and rum
drizzle over the flour and butter mixture
fold the dough together
form into a disk and chill
Some crust doughs can be maddeningly difficult to shape into a pie or tart pan, but Irvin promised this one was quite forgiving. He was right. Any gaps could be patched up with scrap pieces that blended into the dough seamlessly. I made this recipe twice – once in a 10-inch tart and once in an 8-inch tart and two 4-inch tartlets. They were all beautiful, but I had a few issues with the 4-inch tartlets. For one thing, the crust to filling ratio was too high for my tastes whereas it seemed just right for both the 8-inch and 10-inch tarts. I suppose I should have rolled the dough out a little thinner, but math doesn’t lie, folks.
rolling the dough out between plastic wrap sheets
docking the bottom of the tart crust
line with parchment and fill with pie weights (dried beans here)
blind baked and cooling
While the crust cooled, I made the spiced brown butter filling. A word of caution – while I cooked the butter, my cardamom pods popped toward the end and I was splattered with hot butter resulting in several burns on my arms and hands. To prevent this exciting surprise, I suggest cutting a slit into the side of each pod before heating it in the butter, that way it won’t burst and scare the living daylights out of you. I’ve worked with and messed up brown butter enough times now that I recommend constant stirring of the butter over medium heat until you see a streak of brown appear in the foam that forms on top. At that point, I remove the pan from the heat source and continue to stir until it all turns a nice golden color.
spiced brown butter filling: eggs, orange (zest), vanilla bean, sugar, salt, flour, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, star anise
grate the orange zest
add the vanilla seeds from the pod
browned and fragrant
Another reason I constantly stirred the brown butter was because the orange zest tends to burn on the bottom of the pan if left alone. Once the butter is ready, you can discard the spices, but leave the zest and nutmeg dregs behind – they help flavor the filling. Also, you can use vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean. If you do, wait to add the vanilla extract last to the filling (don’t add it to the butter before browning, you’ll just burn it off).
whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and eggs together
stir in the spiced brown butter
pour the filling into the tart shell
Next up – the apple roses. Apple roses are beautiful and delicious, but they can be time consuming. It’s this bit of flair that takes your tart to the next level. It will garner the wows, to be sure. However, if your goal is to simply bake an apple tart and you aren’t married to the idea of apple roses, you can just as easily cut thicker slices or dice the apples and heat them in a pan with the butter, lemon, and sugar, and then arrange them on the tart filling. I found slicing the apples thinner than 1/16-inch thickness resulted in less impressive roses. Thicker than 1/8-inch thickness made it difficult to wrap the roses without having the slices rudely unfurl. It takes a couple of tries before you figure out what works best for you – just be patient and have extra apples on hand in case you need more slices. Also, the geometry of your apple slices matters. The goal is to have semi-ellipse shapes with apple peel on the rounded edges (those are your “petals”.
apples, sugar, butter, lemon juice
toss with lemon to prevent browning
toss with butter and sugar
My microwave must be pretty lame, because it took nearly 3 minutes for me to get my apple slices soft enough to be pliable. To ensure you don’t overnuke your apples, cook them on high for a minute, then check them and add 15 seconds at a time until the slices can bend without breaking. Start each rose with your thinner slices, as they are easier to wrap in tight rolls. I overlapped the end of each new slice with the end of the old slice to help keep my roses from unraveling. Working from the center outward, I arranged the apple roses in the tart filling, tucking unfurled ends in between roses to keep them in place. Since circles don’t pack efficiently, make smaller roses to fill in the gaps until the entire tart is covered.
pliable apple slice
wrapping the rose
arranged in the tart
Once the apple roses were done, I felt I was in the home stretch! The last step was to make a crumble topping. Here is where my second issue with the 4-inch tartlets came up. The streusel is sprinkled in a ring around the tart. For the larger tarts, this is fine because you still have plenty of roses in the center. On the 4-inch tartlets, the streusel covered up the roses, basically obliterating all of that hard work. I made a few tartlets with the crumble topping and a few without. They both tasted great, but the tartlets without the topping were far prettier.
brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter, salt
combine the dry ingredients
stir in the melted butter
sprinkle the crumble in a ring around the tart
There has been a string of apple tarts being marched across the yard to my neighbors for the past couple of weeks, but this one elicited the greatest compliments. It is not only a stunning pastry, but the spiced brown butter filling paired with sweet and slightly tart apples is the perfect dessert for fall and the upcoming holidays. You can make it ahead and you can break it up into two days (crust on day one, the rest on day two). Of course, if you get your hands on Irvin’s book, I’m guessing you will have a heck of a time deciding which recipe to make – they are all fabulous. Congratulations on your first book, Irvin! I’m SO proud of you! xo
i am a sucker for flower-shaped food
ideal for a tea, wedding, brunch, dessert, and yes… breakfast
i like the little tartlets without the crumble topping
Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of Marbled, Swirled, and Layered from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with no obligation on my part. I also received two flats of apples courtesy of Stemilt Growers with no obligation on my part.
1 1/4 cups (175g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (75g) whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
3/4 cup (170g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup dark rum
spiced brown butter filling
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cardamom pods, cracked or pierced to avoid popping in the hot butter
1 star anise
1 large vanilla bean (split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved) or 2 tsps vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (35g) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 lbs. (about 5 medium) red-skinned firm apples like Braeburn, Gala, Jonagold (I used Pink Lady)
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
2 tbsps unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup (55g) packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (50g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsps unsalted butter, melted
Prepare the crust: Combine the flours, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Distribute the cold butter cubes over the flour mixture and toss to coat. Squeeze each cube of butter between your fingers to flatten the pieces. Toss the butter in the flour mixture again. Repeat the process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with flattened butter flakes. Beat the egg yolks and rum together. Drizzle the liquid over the flour mixture and fold them together. Add more liquid or more flour as needed to get the dough to stick together. It will be soft, but shouldn’t be sticky or wet. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten it to a 1-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out to a 14-inch circle on a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of plastic wrap). Line a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with the dough, using any scraps to patch holes in the crust. [Alternatively, this recipe will also make an 8-inch tart and two 4-inch tartlets or six 4-inch tartlets.] Dock (prick) the bottom of the crust with a fork several times so the holes are well distributed. Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (I used dried beans). Place the tart pan in the freezer for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 400°F. Set the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet (it will probably leak some butter) and bake for 10 minutes or until the edges turn a light golden brown. Remove the crust from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
Make the filling: Place the butter, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, anise, vanilla pod and seeds, ground nutmeg, and orange zest in a medium saucepan over medium heat. If using vanilla extract, don’t add it yet! Stir the butter until it begins to brown and turn fragrant. The butter should be just golden brown when you take it off the heat. Let it cool to room temperature then discard the cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, anise, and vanilla pod. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, flour, and salt together. Whisk in the spiced brown butter. If you didn’t use a vanilla bean, whisk in the vanilla extract at this point. Pour the filling into the crust.
Make the apple roses: Set an apple upright on a cutting surface and make four vertical slices around the core – each one at 90 degrees to the previous cut. The core should be a hyperrectangle. Discard the core. Set the apple sections flat-side down and rounded (skin-side) up. Slice so that each cross section looks like a semi-ellipse – about 1/16- to 1/8-inch thick. Place the apple slices in a microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle a little lemon juice over the slices (to prevent browning). Carefully toss to coat. Repeat with the remaining apples. Add the sugar and butter and toss to coat. Microwave the apples slices on high for a minute. Check to see if the slices are pliable (don’t break when you bend them), if not, keep heating them in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time until the slices bend easily. Mine took 3 minutes total.
To make a rose, start with the thinnest slice and curl it into a roll, with the skin-side up. Add another slice, overlapping the slices so they don’t unfurl. Continue until the rose is as big as you want (or can handle). Set the rose in the tart filling. Repeat making roses until you cover the tart. Make smaller roses to fill the gaps between the large roses.
Make the crumble: Mix the dark brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Drizzle the melted butter over the dry ingredients and mix together until clumpy. Sprinkle the crumble in a ring around the edge of the tart. Note: If you make small tartlets, the crumble practically obliterates any evidence that there are beautiful apple roses underneath – so it’s up to you if you want to use the crumble or not. The tarts are delicious with or without the crumble, but definitely prettier without.
Bake the tart: Set the tart on a rimmed baking sheet (it will definitely leak butter) and bake for 50-60 minutes or until the filling is slightly golden and puffy. For my 4-inch tartlets, bake for about 35 minutes. For the 8-inch tart, bake for 50 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before attempting to release the tart from the pan. Serves 8-10. Store on the counter for up to a day or covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days (warm in the oven or bring to room temperature before serving).
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