Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Apple Custard Tart

If you don't recall the stunning "Harvest Pie" I made last Thanksgiving, now is the time to acquaint yourself with it. One of the great things about this recipe, besides how lovely, festive, and delicious it is, is that the recipe makes enough for two crusts. For my small family, that meant one pie to eat, and one crust in the freezer for a special time to come.

That time came when we received an Tuesday-night (read: work night) invitation to dinner with friends and I offered to bring dessert. Having something half-ready yet whole-homemade gave me extra time to spend on a unique filling.

I knew I wanted to use this crust for a tart this time. When I'd made the pie, I baked a couple of the trimmings on their own, and thought they were tasty enough to serve as a cookie. And the most delightful tart need be nothing more than a delectable crust with some whipped cream or custard and fresh fruit.

My first thought was to make a champagne custard and top with berries. I have been thinking about champagne custard as a component of a wedding cake I'll be making in May, and want to test-drive a couple concoctions in the next couple months. I purchased a bottle of sparkling wine thinking I might whip up a batch for Valentine's Day, but had been out of eggs at the time. I am still going to try that once berries are in season. Meanwhile, I had some frozen blueberries, which is what got me thinking about a baked custard. (Frozen fruit can be just fine cooked, but I wouldn't want to serve it as a stand-in for fresh.)

I made a blueberry custard tart for my dad's birthday one year, and thought about going that route, before steering toward something slightly more seasonal and able to use the organic apples already in my fridge. I thought about going to that same custard and simply swapping out the fruit, but a quick search for "apple custard tart" brought me to this heavenly-sounding version with browned butter. I simply adore the rich, carmelized toastiness that browned butter brings to virtually any dish it touches, and with the nuttiness of my almond-sesame crust and harvest sweetness of apples it seemed exactly the right thing.

Besides trading the pastry crust for my almond cookie crust, my only other changes to the recipe were to use 3 Braeburn apples (18 oz total), sliced more thinly into about 15 wedges each, and to omit the pepper from the saute. As you can see in my photo, the apples didn't stay entirely on top of the custard like they did in the Food & Wine photo, but they still retained the evenly-spaced spiral pattern.

I scooped the apples out of the saute pan to transfer them into the tart shell, and was left with some sweetened apple-butter remaining. Rather than dump it out, or drown the custard with it, I decided to turn it into a small amount of caramel to drizzle on the plate before serving. Making sure there were no pieces of apple left in the pan, I turned the heat to high to reduce it a bit more, then added a touch of cream and simmered until it was thickened. As it cooled, it turned into a luxuriously and lightly fruit-scented caramel sauce perfect as an accompaniment.

The tart chilled overnight in the fridge and I served it at room temperture the next day. It kept fabulously, without the crust turning soggy or the apples getting mushy, for three days, and makes an excellent breakfast. :)

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