November 16, 2011

Signature Apple-Onion Tart

Market News

This Saturday (Nov 19) the generous folks at Pyramid Farms will be donating 100% of their sales to the Heifer Project. If you're not familiar with Heifer Project, please check out their website.  They are a very worthwhile charitable organization that gives livestock and training to families in need in other countries.  Please stop by Pyramid Farms booth tomorrow and pick up some super-sweet organic carrots, butternut squash or tasty greens and know that you're supporting a great cause!

Wednesday (Nov 23) is the last day that the Farmers Market at North Valley Plaza will be open for the year.  So if you find yourself needing persimmons and mandarins for a festive Thanksgiving fruit salad, or maybe some chard for a praise-worthy gratin, head over to the North Valley Plaza 7:30am -1:00pm.


I've been mourning the loss of summer's variety lately.  After all those tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, herbs and nectarines--and don't forget melons, berries and corn--the months of greens and winter squash ahead of us seem kind of boring.  Don't get me wrong, I got pretty excited about pumpkin in October, but as the weather cooled, and the strawberries disappeared from the market... and since the girls ate the last of our refrigerator pickles, I've been a little sad. 

But then I made this tart.  I've made it a few times, but it's been a couple years.  The dough is a bit labor intensive, but the rave reviews that it receives at parties are worth the effort.  The aroma of the apples and onions sautéing in butter is like all the wonderfulness of autumn wrapped up in a warm kitchen. It reminds me of Thanksgiving.  Speaking of which, this would be a great addition to your holiday spread, if you're still looking for a special appetizer or bread.

This tart is a bit involved, but it can be made mostly ahead of time.  If you are already a yeast baker, you're familiar with the process of mixing, kneading, rising (waiting), shaping, then rising again and baking. If you're not a baker; become one, if only so that you can then master this dough and impress your friends with all the wonderful things you can make with it: Chocolate croissants and this tart are my two favorites.

My original inspiration for this was an recipe in "Real Simple" magazine.  Their version, though, called for grocery store puff pastry.  I made it per their directions once, and served it at a Christmas Party in our home. I received all kinds of compliments on it; but, having made croissants from scratch before, I had a nagging feeling that this pastry would be so much better with homemade dough.  So the next time I made it, for a New Years Eve party where all the guests brought an hors d'oeurve and a drink, I dug out my 1986 Edition of The Betty Crocker Cookbook and used the recipe for Danish Pastry Dough.  (Why this recipe isn't in the more recent edition that is my standby, I don't know. It should be.)  Again, I was surprised by how much people liked it.  But what's not to like?  Buttery layers of croissant-like dough, untainted with whole grains (gasp!), topped with apples and onions that taste like everything we love about fall.  Time to bust out the rolling pin!

Signature Apple-Onion Tart

Dough can be made ahead and frozen up to 2 months.  I tend to make a double batch of the dough and freeze half, because once the dough is made the assembly is quick and simple.  (Also, because this same dough makes wonderful croissants, and isn't that a nice thing to have in your freezer?)  If making a double batch, chill the butter in two separate portions, divide the dough into two portions after the first rise, and do all the rolling and shaping in separate batches.  Defrost dough in the fridge overnight before rolling out, topping and baking.  Recipe below is for a single batch.  

Makes approximately 48 hors d'oeuvres-size portions or 24 bread-course portions. (I'd plan for at least three portions per guest.)

1 batch Danish Pastry Dough, see below
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
one medium onion
2 apples, something crisp and sweet such as a Pink Lady, a Honeycrisp, a Gala or a Fuji
a pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or plain yogurt

 Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Roll dough out into large rectangle, approximately 20 x 12 inches, but you can be very approximate at this point. Using a pizza cutter, cut rectangle in thirds horizontally.  You want three long strips. When working with dough that is expected the "puff" always make cuts as cleanly as possible.  Transfer strips to rimmed baking sheets.  (The rim is important, because if you bake this on an un-rimmed sheet, some butter may leak out, drip onto the bottom of your oven and create a little fire.  Nothing that can't be solved with a huff and a puff or a generous sprinkle of baking soda, but not something you want.  Not that I've had this happen before...twice.)  Set the dough in a cooler area of the kitchen while you prepare the topping.

Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat.

While butter melts, slice onion in half from top to bottom.  Slice the halves into thin half-rings, then slice the rings in half. (You should have thin quarter-rings, as opposed to wedges.)  Add onions to skillet and stir once.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, not much.  Let cook a couple minutes, while you prepare the apples:  slice apples in half and remove the core.  Do not peel.  Slice apple halves into thin half-rings, then cut the half-rings in half, so that you have apple quarters, sliced thinly.  Check your onions, stir them. Once they have softened (and maybe just started to caramelize), toss the apples in and stir gently.  Sauté, stirring a couple more times, for about two minutes.  You want your onions soft, your apples relatively crisp.  Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.

Gently brush crème fraiche onto dough.  Then gently spread apple-onion topping over dough.  Bake in 400ºF degree oven until tart has puffed up a bit and the edges are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes before slicing.  Slice each pastry horizontally once, then vertically as many times as you like.  For hors d'oeuvres, I like 2" squares.  If serving as a bread accompaniment to a meal, a 4x2" rectangle would be more appropriate.

Danish Pastry Dough
adapted from Betty Crocker 

1 1/2 sticks cold butter
1 pkg (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour
* Special Equipment: rolling pin, wax paper, a ruler and a pastry brush

Slice butter in half horizontally, so that you have three even pieces. Set all three sticks of butter next to each other on a sheet of wax paper.  Cover with another sheet of wax paper. Use a rolling pin to roll butter into a 6" square.  Refrigerate 1 1/2 hours, until firm.  Butter must be very cold in order to roll correctly in the following steps.

Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, egg and 1 1/3 cups of flour. Beat until smooth.  Add enough of the remaining flour to make dough easy to handle, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface (or switch to dough hook) and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Place dough in lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 hours.

At this point you need to work quickly, but don't stress.  If you need to leave your dough at anytime during the rolling process, stick it in the fridge.  You want the butter to remain cold throughout the rolling.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Use a rolling pin (I like my handy-dandy silicone polling pin, but back in the 80's Betty Crocker recommended a cloth-covered rolling pin) to roll the dough into a 12" circle.  Place the cold butter square in the center of the circle, and bring the edges of circle up over the butter.  Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal in the butter.  You will be left with a  6 1/2" square of dough.

Roll the dough into a 20 x 6" rectangle.  The dough will be stiff at first, but quickly gets easier to work with. If butter leaks though the corners or edges, sprinkle flour generously over the exposed butter and pat it into the dough.  Use a pastry brush to brush excess flour off of dough before folding.  Fold dough into thirds, creating three layers of dough, so that you again have an (approximately) 6" square.  Pinch the edges to seal.

Turn the dough one-quarter turn.  Roll out into a 20 x 6" rectangle.  (See, isn't it getting easier to work with?)  Fold the rectangle into thirds again and seal the edges. 

If you would like to freeze the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it in a Ziplock bag (you need both layers to prevent freezer burn) and freeze up to two months.  Defrost 8-12 hours in the fridge before using.  If you plan on using the dough within the next eight hours, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 1 1/2 hours before proceeding.

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