September 13th, 2012

A Perfect Apple Tart, and a Peek into Luisa Weiss’s Berlin Kitchen

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These cool September mornings have me thinking about transitions. Soon, the fall harvests, and bushels of apples picked from area orchards will be arriving at the markets. Red and Golden Delicious, Pink Ladys and Granny Smiths, Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks. Beautiful varieties, each with a distinct taste and culinary use.

I welcome this time of year. It ushers in another wave of foods and festivities that bring people together.

From my office perch looking out into the backyard, I see signs of a season in shift. Leaves getting tinged with yellow. Persimmons ripening on the rugged tree by the alley. Hummingbirds gorging on nectar before making their migration further south. I’ve lived in middle Tennessee for a long time, lived out many long hot summers. Autumn always invigorates me with its crisp clear air and blaze of color. I relish the changes of the seasons. Although anything can happen, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

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A sense of place. That gets entwined with many things, especially in a transient society. Where we were born, where we grew up, where we went to school, where we work, all play a part in grounding us, informing that deepest part of us about where we belong. We all have the right place to be.

It’s a potent and poignant theme that Luisa Weiss explores in her food memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Known to many as The Wednesday Chef, Luisa tells her story of finding that sense of place. A confluence of cultures is at the heart of her journey.

In 1977, she was born to an Italian mother and an American father in West Berlin. At age three, her parents divorced and she moved to Boston with her father. She grew up, traveling back and forth, straddling two homes, two worlds. Her divided life, in a way, paralleled Berlin of the Cold War.

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As a young adult living in New York, Luisa worked as a cookbook editor. A touchstone to memory, an anchor for comfort, food and cooking became central in her life. In 2005, she launched her blog, initially as a way to plow through the scads of recipes she’d clipped and saved. The Wednesday Chef became more than a food blog; readers worldwide followed her journal as she came to grips with the feeling that her life in New York, ideal as it appeared with a terrific job, fiance, and circle of friends, was not where she belonged.

My Berlin Kitchen chronicles that larger arc of self-discovery, and courage to make bold change. It is a love story, sprinkled with delectable recipes, gleaned from her world travels. Many have an intriguing, decidedly Berliner bent. Roast goose, braised red cabbage, poppyseed whirligig buns, white asparagus salad, spiced plum butter…

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I enjoyed reading her story, and found real inspiration in her recipes. Today, I made her Apple Tart.

I call it a Perfect Apple Tart, for it truly honors the apple, in all its crisp sweet-tart glory. In Luisa’s words, ” This tart is about the pure, clear taste of apples, sugar, and a little bit of butter. There are no spices to muddle the flavors.”

And, its crust—the crust could be reason alone to make the tart: thin and golden, immeasurably buttery and flaky.

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She credits her recipe to four culinary luminaries: Jacques Pepin, who originally conceived it; Alice Waters, who has kept it a constant offering at Chez Panisse; Deb Perelman, who brought it out into the wide world through her blog, Smitten Kitchen; and Melissa Clark, whose New York Times pastry-making video showed that leaving the butter in larger, lima bean (rather than pea) sized pieces in the dough insured a richer, flakier crust.

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Of course, your tart will only be as wonderful as your apples. Select firm ones. Luisa recommends Golden Delicious. I chose Ginger Golds, an early harvest variety with a spicy-tart finish. They are good to eat out of hand, and bake into pies or cakes.

As we come into apple season, you’ll no doubt find other varieties that will appeal to you.

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Here’s the tart’s magic. You peel and core the apples before slicing them. Then, you immerse those trimmings in water with sugar, and cook them down. After straining, you reduce the apple-infused liquid to a marvelous syrupy glaze.

After baking and cooling, you brush the tart–apples and crust– with apple syrup. Oh, my!

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Apple-Apple-Apple! The tart is all about the apples, not-too-sweet, baked tender in a butter-crisp rustic crust:

From Jacques Pepin to Alice Waters, Deb Perelman to Melissa Clarke, from Luisa Weiss to me, and now to you.

Wishing you contentment wherever you are, Nancy

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A PERFECT APPLE TART from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

The Crust
1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/8 teaspoon Salt
6 tablespoons well-chilled unsalted Butter, cut into 1″ pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons icy water

food processor fitted with pastry cutter

Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse until the butter is broken down into lima bean shaped pieces. Pulse in water, a spoonful at a time, until dough comes together.

Dump out onto lightly floured work surface and gather it together, flattening into 4″ wide disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes. (or up to 3 days)

The Apple Filling
2 lbs. crisp firm Apples (I used Ginger Gold) peeled, cored. and thinly sliced–Save the peels and cores
2 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted
3-5 tablespoons Sugar (I used 4 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees, if using a convection oven).

Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll out onto a flour-dusted work counter.
Rolling and rotating the dough, dust with more flour to prevent sticking. Continue rolling until you’ve made a 14″-16″ thin round.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the rolled dough round on it.

Place the apple slices in overlapping circles on the dough, leaving a 2″ border. Crowd as many apple slices as possible.
They will cook down in the oven.

Fold the edges of the crust over the tart, creating a rustic look, leaving the center of the tart exposed.
Brush melted butter over the apples and onto the crust. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust and apples as well.

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tart after 20-22 minutes.
The crust will become golden brown, as will the edges of the apples.

While the tart bakes, make the apple syrup. (recipe below)
Remove the baked tart and let it cool for 15 minutes before brushing the apples and crust with apple syrup.

Serve warm or room temperature. Makes 8 servings.

The Apple Syrup
Reserved Apple Cores and Peels
1/2 cup Sugar

Put cores and peels into a saucepan along with sugar. Pour in water–enough to cover.
Bring to a boil, them simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain the liquid; discard the apple trimmings, and return liquid to saucepan.
Reduce on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, until it becomes thickened and syrupy.

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