My mom and I spent a long time planning out our Christmas Day Feast - it would be like Thanksgiving Dinner but three times larger, and more open-ended. 18 people were to arrive at our house at 4 pm in just a few short days, and the menu still had to be planned, groceries bought, dishes assembled and cooked. And after it was all said and done, I still think planning the menu was the hardest part.
I mean, for Thanksgiving there are many "givens." Turkey. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Yams. Pumpkin-y something for dessert. But Christmas? Prime rib is a tradition for our family, but the rest is not set in stone. We wanted to re-vamp our dinner, try new things. But with so many recipes out there, so many Holiday Menu guides, and so many food blogs I've discovered recently, I found this to be a difficult task.
One recipe that stood out - I think this is the first one I actually decided on - was this Apple Tart recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite foodie blogs. It's simple - just apples and a good homemade crust brushed with some butter and sprinkled with sugar. Nothing fake, nothing too gooey or over-the-top. I thought it would be the perfect finish to a heavy dinner, when everyone thought they just couldn't eat one more bite... they'd somehow find room for this delicate treat.
Since we were having 18 people over for dinner, I made three tarts. Each one I made turned out a little bit better. Well, not exactly better... prettier. I did the first one in a pie dish, and the second two galette-style (free-form on a cookie sheet).
Not only did they look beautiful and rustic when they came out of the oven, they were perfectly tart and delicious. They disappeared astonishingly quickly after they were served; plates were being scraped clean as I sat down to eat mine - the last piece.
And at the last minute, right before dessert was served, I quickly whipped (ha) up some whipped cream in the mixer. I'd looked at a few recipes the day before, but neglected to choose one and write it down. So, when it came time to serve the tarts, I poured in some whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla and tasted until it was just right. So easy, I'll never go back to the canned stuff.
Alice Waters’s Apple Tart (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water
2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart, firm variety), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar
For glaze: 1/2 cup sugar
Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.
Dribble in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
Place dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan, or simply on a parchment-lined baking sheet if you wish to go free-form, or galette-style with it. Heat oven to 400°F. (If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the rack.)
Overlap apples on dough in a ring 2 inches from edge if going galette-style, or up to the sides if using the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals.
Brush melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples.
Bake in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.
Make glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.
Remove tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes.
Brush glaze over tart, slice, and serve.