My Step-by-Step Guide to Making Tarte Normande
As we’re just beginning to see the first signs of spring in France after a bitterly cold winter, it means South Africa has officially entered autumn. In France, autumn is apple tart season, which has anchored me to my childhood home ever since my first autumn here. Baking an apple tart always makes a house feel like a home – no matter where you are – particularly when infused with cinnamon. And no apple tart, pudding or pie says “baking day” quite like a Normandy apple tart. It’s a marathon. Into the oven, out of the oven, in we go, out we go, in, out, and so it goes until all the juices from the apples have blended with the custard and the flavours have reached that perfect, sweet cinnamon creaminess that makes it all worth it.
In South Africa, we tend to reserve the sour Granny Smiths for baking, but the French favour the sweeter red ones, which I love. If you’re going to bake an apple tart, go all out I say! I really can’t resist the the deep red stripes on the skins of these Royal Gala apples. The variety originated in New Zealand as a mutation of its un-royal, less flamboyant cousin, the Gala apple, and first reached South Africa in the 1980s. Although you don’t see many of the stripes when this tart comes out of the oven for the last time, they create a beautiful effect on the way to the finishing line, like a personal pleasure reserved only for the eyes of the diligent baker.
195 g (210 ml) unsalted butter, cut up into blocks
330 g (590 ml) cake flour
pinch of salt
40 g (45 ml) caster sugar
2 egg yolks
60 – 75 ml cold water
8 red apples
100 g (120 ml) caster sugar
5 ml ground cinnamon
70 g (85 ml) caster sugar
35 g (60 ml) cake flour
250 ml cream
60 ml Calvados (apple brandy) or a good 5 year old brandy
20 g (25 ml) caster sugar
45 ml smooth apricot jam
Blind baking the pastry
Eyes wide open, put the butter, flour, salt and caster sugar in a food processor. Blend until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the egg yolks and mix. Then, add the water spoon by spoon and mix until a dough forms.
Place the dough in an airtight container and let it rest for about 30 minutes in the fridge. While this happens, preheat the oven to 180 °C.
Roll the pastry out onto a floured surface. Spray a 30 cm loose-base quiche tin with non-stick food spray before lining the tin with the pastry and pricking the base with a fork. Cover the pastry with a generous piece of baking paper and fill it with dried beans. You are about to blind bake your pastry.
Place the tin in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. When taking it out of the oven, remove the paper and beans (keeping the beans for future blind baking). Place the pastry back in the oven and bake it (bean-less) for a further 10 minutes. Take it out and keep it to one side.
What to do with the apples
Using a sharp knife, halve each apple and cut out the core and seeds. l don’t like using an apple corer, as I always feel I lose too much of the flesh.
While halving and coring, keep your apples in a bowl of salted water, as this will prevent them from browning. Don’t use apple juice. You want to preserve the natural flavours of the apples.
Slice all the apple halves into thin slivers and keep them in the salted water. Once you’ve sliced your way through the whole batch, take them out of the water and dry them on a kitchen towel. Then, place the apples in a bowl and sprinkle 100 g of caster sugar and cinnamon over the apples. Carefully mix the sugar through the apples, taking care not to break them.
Arrange the apple halves in circles along the base of the tin like roof tiles, packing them nice and tightly.
Place the tart back in the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.
And now for the part that makes it a normandy apple tart
Beat together the eggs, 70 g of the caster sugar, flour, cream and Calvados (or brandy). This particular concoction is what separates the Normandy apple tart from a garden variety apple tart. Calvados is a brandy made from apples or pears, but when you can’t get your hands on a bottle, use a regular old brandy instead.
Carefully pour this mixture over the apples. If it spills a little over the edges of the crust into the tin, don’t worry. She’s seen worse.
Place the tart back in the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.
Then, take her out and sprinkle the last of the caster sugar over the surface and place her back in the oven until she’s nice and brown.
Take her out of the oven for the last time
The final flourish
Heat the apricot jam and carefully brush it over the surface of the tart, which will give her a beautiful glow.
Serve with a splash of cream or, if you’re being really decadent, a scoop of good quality vanilla ice-cream.