ms_ani would like to go to France and spend some time there but that's not gonna happen anytime soon. [Famous last words: an impossible to refuse airline deal sent us on a long weekend direct flight to Paris one month later, but still, a few days is not what she had in mind.] She would also like to start doing French cooking. Much easier. So we picked up a small French bistro cookbook, every dish beautifully photographed. The French apple tart popped out at us. Sweet pastry crust, vanilla bean pastry cream, thin sliced apples neatly arranged in a circular pattern. Only two problems: no vanilla beans and no tart pan with removable bottom. The first was solved at a local supermarket in the bottled spice section but WHOA! Over three bucks for a couple long bean pods in a spice jar. As for the second we had no time to get to a cooking supply for the affluent store so we improvisedwe used a cheesecake springform pan. Not perfect but good enough to fill in till the right pan came along, which it did soon after.
Of course American apple pie prejudice lowered dr bob's expectations for this French flattened version, but let's face itthere must be some reason the average French restaurant can charge so much for its product. This tart is actually good and not overwhelming like a superpacked American pie, especially when you add the obligatory vanilla ice cream / frozen yogurt. dr bob was looking for nonfat frozen yogurt but only found lowfat vanilla bean ice cream. Only 20% calories from fat! And a great combination with the French tart of course.
Two steps precede the assembly / baking phase of this project, both of which may be done in advance (like the day before): 1) pastry cream (cooled) and 2) sweet pastry dough.
Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl and whisk or beat until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Set aside.
Combine the milk and vanilla bean in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. As soon as it begins to boil, remove from the heat and remove the vanilla bean, scraping the seeds directly into the milk with the tip of a small sharp knife.
Whisk half the hot milk into the egg mixture in the bowl and return the saucepan to high heat. As soon as it begins to boil again, pour the bowl stuff into it, whisking constantly.
Stir over high heat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and then return to a boil and boil while stirring for 2 more minutes.
Remove from the heat and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the hot cream to prevent a skin from forming. Cool completely before using. Makes enough for 2 tarts. Make one, wait a while, make another.
This is not a health food product. If your butter is still frozen like ours (we keep it in the freezer), you can paper thin cut it cross-wise (we use a super knife picked up at a home show, used to cut steel hammers for effect in the demo) and combine with the sugar using a manual pastry blender. If soft, then beat with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Then add the egg and beat until creamy.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour and baking power just minimally and then beat on low until the dough is evenly mixed and clings together, about 2 or 3 minutes.
Shape the dough into a flattened oval, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 2 weeks). Bring to room temperature (allow an hour here too) before using.
As previously noted in our early days (bavarian apple torte), these sweet pastry crusts are not user friendly. A floured pastry cloth is indispensible here to keep your beautifully rolled out crust from self destructing when transferring to the tart pan (even worse with the high sides of a cheesecake pan!)
Once you've rolled it out to the approximate diameter needed for the 10 inch (25cm) pan plus sides, very carefully loosely roll up the pastry from the pastry cloth to your floured cloth covered rolling pin and then unroll on the pan. Or if you have the magic pan, you can put the flat bottom on the rolled out dough and overturn and place in the sidewall support structure.
Any side breakage can be repaired by hand by just pressing overrun pieces into gaps. Trim the extra dough even with the top of the sidewalls of the magic pan if you've got one and refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Core and peel the apples, then slice lengthwise very thin. Mix with the sugar and cinnamon.
Get the crust out of the fridge and spread the cooled pastry cream evenly over the bottom (about 1/8 in deep). Then arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles and brush with the melted butter.
Bake about 50 minutes until golden brown and slightly caramelized (the sugar).
Serve warm or at room temperature.