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Pie in the Sky

When I was a kid, I imagined that I was a member of the landed gentry. I would look out my window with great satisfaction as I watched a kind old man tend to my vast apple orchard. And every autumn, in a show of respect that bordered on the obsequious, he would deposit on my doorstep bushel after bushel of my bounty. Being the personification of noblesse oblige, I would nod and allow him to take one bushel for himself, his wife and 28 smudge-faced children.

In reality, the orchard had fewer than a dozen trees, and the wizened old man was my father. The only truth is that Dad is preternaturally gifted with a pair of pruning shears, and every year he has a harvest big enough to keep a family of 30 in apples for the entire winter.

And that was the problem: too many apples. My mother, an exceptional cook, was nonetheless not much for baking. So we ate our apples naked and unadorned, making a steady march all winter to the root cellar (a.k.a. the bulkhead stairs) to retrieve them by the dozen. I’m not complaining. My Dad’s apples are the size of a trucker’s fist and have a crunch that could trigger avalanches. My problem was that I didn’t have any other way to enjoy them until I taught myself to make apple pie well into my adult years. The recipe was for a time-consuming sour-cream variation, which I made to celebrate everything from baptisms to the 50th anniversary of D-day.

Detecting a rut, I decided to experiment: There was cold soup de pomme, which could have passed for thin applesauce; homemade apple jerky, which was more leathery than the beef version; and as a homage to photographer Harold Edgerton, who took a famous image of a .30-caliber bullet piercing what appeared to be a Macintosh, a baked apple with a horizontal hole. On the plate was a single almond. Clearly, it was time to move on.

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Then I stumbled upon a recipe for individual apple tarts by Johanne Killeen and her husband George Germon, owners of Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, R.I. The recipe calls for one apple for two tarts; evidently they didn’t have a cellar full of Golden Delicious. Because the tarts are easier to make than a pie, my apple consumption has spiked again, much to my father’s delight. I bake them for weeknight dinners, brunches, picnics, even late-night snacks. Now, if only I had a kitchen staff to do my bidding, as befits a feudal lord.

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Apple Tarts

Adapted from a recipe by Johanne Killeen and George Germon, Al Forno Restaurant, Providence, R.I.

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Makes 4 tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

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1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup ice water

2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, cut in quarters and sliced paper-thin

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2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, quartered

Vanilla ice cream

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar and salt until blended. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with pieces no bigger than small peas, about 13 to 15 one-second pulses. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Process for about 10 seconds, stopping before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the contents of the bowl onto a work surface, form into four equal-size discs and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each disc into a 7-inch circle and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread one-quarter of the ginger mixture on each tart, then arrange one-quarter of the slices (about half an apple) in an overlapping circular pattern on top, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the sugar evenly on top of the apples and fold over the borders. Most of the apples will remain uncovered. Press down the dough on the baking sheet, snugly securing the sides and seams to prevent drips. Dot the center of each tart with butter.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crusts are golden and the apples have begun to brown slightly. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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David Leite last wrote for the magazine about hazelnut dacquoise.

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