Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Small-town, 19th century France

I’m fantastic at procrastinating. Really, I’m one of the best. Like right now, I’m supposed to have my head buried deep inside Evelina, reading about seductive eighteenth century London, but instead I’m here, writing to you. I could also be reading about Dominican border frontiers, but that is beside the point.

The point is, that in the midst of putting things off, I was on track to missing apple season entirely. And that would have been a grave, grave mistake; summer may have all of the tomatoes, and the blueberries, and, well, all of the best produce – but fall has the apples, which aren’t to be missed. Luckily for me, in a battle of apples and scholarly history articles, apples always win, especially if they’re in tart form.

I felt like some sort of Alsatian housewife, save for the flowery-wallpapered kitchen and frilly apron while I made this, organizing my paper-thin apples in concentric circles over a layer of apricot preserves. All very small-town 19th century France, if you ask me. But daydreaming about being a boulanger on sunny Monday afternoons while baking apple galettes is actually quite a nice reprieve from books and papers and tests.

I was intimidated, I will admit, about the crust part of this endeavor. Crust making has always seemed to me a finicky, high maintenance sort of thing – wholly dependent on precision – like a chemistry experiment, but with flour and butter instead of Borax and Elmer’s glue. Plus, people can be downright picky about their crusts.

I once had a table at the restaurant order our apple tart for dessert, and after loving each previous course, pull me aside after they had finished most of the thing, to tell me each one of its shortcomings. It was a major disappointment, they told me, the crust was just all wrong. Now, aside from wondering where most of the tart had gone if it was really that bad, I wondered if they knew we had a French chef making the pastry back there in the kitchen, using his French pastry expertise, which includes being not at all shy with butter. In my mind, if you’re from France, you automatically have a way with pastry, probably by means of genetic predisposition.

Needless to say, if someone could complain about a frenchman’s pastry, I felt I had a very small shot at success. But since the pressures of my kitchen are much less than that of a four-star restaurant’s, and since someone figured out that all we baking-haters really need for good pastry is a food processor, I gave it a go.

Turns out, an apple galette is actually much simpler than you’d think. It certainly looks impressive, but that’s all a front: all it really takes is a food processor, a rolling pin, and a little patience with layering apples. And well, a frilly apron if you’re into that.

I’m not sure if mine would satisfy snobby restaurant patrons, but judging by how fast it got devoured in my house, I’d say I did pretty well. The crust was surprisingly flaky and buttery, and the apples turned a caramel brown while getting perfectly melty from their long, slow stint under the oven’s heat. Make this soon, before all the good apples are gone. Now that I have, I need to get back to Evelina.

Apple Galette
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

1 1/2 pounds orchard apples (the more tart the better), peeled, cored, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup apricot preserves
Whole milk

If you want to feel super authentic, do this part with your hands. If, however, you’re like me, and crusts scare you, go with the food processor: blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and blend just until dough begins to clump together, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.

Roll out dough between sheets of parchment paper until it is about 1/8in. thick. Don’t be too fussy – it doesn’t have to be a perfect circle, the thickness just has to be even. Rustic is good, too. Peel off the top sheet of parchment. Using bottom sheet as aid, transfer dough on parchment to large unrimmed baking sheet. Chill 15 minutes.

While it’s chilling, preheat your oven to 450°F, and slice your apples. I used a mandoline for this part. Combine apple slices, 2 tablespoons sugar, and lemon peel in medium bowl; toss to blend, being careful not to break the fragile apples. Spread preserves over crust, leaving 1 1/2-inch plain border. Arrange apple slices in concentric circles atop preserves, overlapping slightly. Using parchment as aid, fold plain crust border up over apples, pinching any cracks in crust. Brush crust with milk. Sprinkle crust edges and apples with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, and then reduce oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until crust is golden, about 25 minutes longer. When you take it out, slide a long thin knife between parchment and galette to make sure it won’t stick later on. Let cool a bit, and then cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

1 comment:

Lauri said...

What a yummy thing to do instead of studying! Glad your fear of crust-making is on it's way out? Did you ever the tell the patry chef about the couple who cleaned their dessert plate and THEN complain?? I love the angle of the light on the Galette!