“Good apple pies”, wrote Jane Austen, “are a considerable part of domestic happiness”. Of course she didn’t give a recipe for her optimal apple pie, but I have a hunch it was an English-type job, with pastry over and under, and those lovely Bramley apples that subside into a fluff on cooking.
Based in Alsace, France, I incline more to a tarte aux pommes, the kind that only has pastry below and where the apples keep their shape. The alsaciens are masters at the art of the tarte; there’s always one sitting on the kitchen dresser, dusted with icing sugar and waiting to be served up with ice cream.
It’s at this time of year that tarte aux pommes comes into its own, when the ripe apples start to plop obligingly onto the ground and I can scoop up armfuls of windfall russets on my walk. They make a marvellous tarte, with their perfect balance of sweet and sharp, and good body to boot.
The classic Alsatian tarte aux pommes features sliced apples in dizzying concentric circles and (often) a gorgeous gooey mixture of eggs and cream on top, which bakes to a rich custard with the heat of the oven. Sometimes I do that kind. Even more often I simply slice the apples, arrange them in the pastry, sprinkle them with brown sugar and dot with butter. Into the oven goes the tart, to emerge golden brown with the sugar lightly caramelised on top. Here’s how.
Roll out 250g shortcrust pastry (or use a ready-rolled 230g disc of pastry, shortcrust or puff) and use it to line a 30cm metal quiche tin with removable base. (Don’t use one of those fluted ceramic dishes – they’re fine for tomato salad or gratin dauphinois but hopeless for baking, and a surefire recipe for soggy bottoms.) Peel, quarter and core a bunch of apples (probably 5 large ones, but you can never have too many) and slice them fairly thinly and evenly.
Prick the bottom of the pastry so it doesn’t puff up in the oven and arrange the apple slices decoratively on top, sitting them up nicely and bracing them one against another. Pack’em in tightly – they always shrink a bit and no-one likes a mean little tart.
Sprinkle brown sugar on top (the crunchy, not sandy, kind) and dot with butter. Bake in the lower part of a 200C oven for about 30 minutes or until golden and beautiful to behold. Serve with home-made honey ice cream or whipped cream.