A Dutch apple tart story

This story is about the comforting smell of cinnamon and the nostalgia that comes with apples baked in pastry. This collection of ingredients is symbolic in more than one part of the world for pure happiness.  Just like the warmth of a burning hearth and the simple joys of a steaming mug of tea, the apple tart is an emotional aphrodisiac.

As a regular traveler between Europe and North America, I have studied the similarities and differences between the American apple pie and the Dutch “appeltaart”  for some time. Just how food traditions weave themselves into cultural rituals fascinates me. This fact will  hopefully both explain and excuse the length of the following narrative that eventually does lead to one of my favorite (and most tested) recipes described in detail at the bottom of the page!

So without further ado, this is what I have to say about the Dutch appeltaart and the goodness of home baking.

In the Netherlands appeltart is much more like a cake than its name would suggest. This dessert is the single most popular sweet treat in the country; it is an absolute essential at every birthday party and on a prominent place for virtually every special occasion. It goes by the name “appeltaart” in the Dutch language which of course easily translates in English to “apple tart”.  Though related to the American apple pie, it is really nothing like the pastries that go by that name in the USA.

About the pastry

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A Dutch style appeltaart pastry is made with flour, butter, sugar, egg and baking powder. The dough is so soft that it is carefully pressed by hand into form after being chilled. The way the ingredients rise and envelope the fresh apple filling is what makes this dish so unique. What defines the appeltaart is the amount of apples used to bake it — when baked well — it looks like a mountain of apples just barely held together by a buttery crust.

About the apples

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The Golden Reinette apple variety is the apple of choice as this type of fruit is more sour than sweet. The Golden Reinette happens to be the most cultivated apple in the Netherlands. It has been part of the country’s agricultural landscape since the eighteenth century. It is quite large and most usually has a pale golden skin tinged with red. (This particular variety is also widely used to make homemade apple sauce by the way !)

A note on appeltaart history

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Dutch appeltaart recipes have been traced back as far as the sixteenth century. Historians agree however that this tradition is certainly hundreds of years older. It was most probably a luxury sweet in this part of the world as early as the Middle Ages. Although no longer a part of the most popular tart ingredients,  in the Golden Age exotics like rosewater and even fennel seeds were added to the apples for extra flavor.

About raisins

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Discussions about whether or not raisins should be added to a traditional appeltaart are quite heated in the Netherlands. I think it is safe to say that it divides families and communities. Raisins were most definitely used in the first historic recipes for appeltaart. If you are a raisin fan, soak a handful of raisins in hot water for ten minutes before tossing them through the baked apples. The result will be an even sweeter tart.

A touch of romanticism

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With the Golden Age in mind, sprinkle the apples with dried rose petals just before  baking them.

A mountain of whipped cream

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Like luscious warm chocolate milk, Dutch appeltaart is served with an abundance of whipped cream. Make it fresh with a whisk !

A footnote on my recipe twists

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I like to use sprouted spelt flour, rather than the more standard white wheat flour to make my pastry. I also bake my apple slices on their own in the oven before assembling my tart. It is not a traditional method but I have learned through trial and error that this helps to keep the pastry together and helps avoid a soggy  bottom which is something I am not too fond of. In memory of the Golden Age spice habits, I make a rose petal honey to drizzle over the tart once baked.

Ingredients for the soft crust of a Dutch appeltaart large enough to serve 12

  • 500 grams sprouted spelt flour . or organic spelt flour
  • 300 grams cold unsalted butter sliced
  • 150 coconut blossom sugar . or raw cane sugar
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or the marrow of a Bourbon vanilla bean
  • the zest of one lemon
  • a pinch of sea salt

Ingredients for the filing of a Dutch appeltaart

  • 10 medium sized apples . approximately 2 kilos
  • choose the most firm and crisp apple variety grown in your country . or use a combination of  Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples
  • 2 tablespoons of finely ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of rosewater . optional but truly wonderful
  • the juice of two organic lemons

To brush the top of the pastry

  • one egg yolk
  • one tablespoon of cream or milk

Baking necessities

  • Parchment paper
  • Two flat baking platters
  • a springform tart pan. 28 centimeter or 12 inches in diameter
  • softened butter to brush the edges
  • a pastry brush

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius or 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Squeeze the lemon juice into a large bowl. Peel and core the apples. Cut them in half. Lay the cut side down on a cutting board, and slice each apple half into four wedges. Toss the apple wedges in the bowl with lemon juice. (This adds freshness to the tart and keeps the fruit from turning brown in the process).If you would like to use rosewater to flavor the apple, add one teaspoon of rosewater to the sliced apples along with the lemon juice.

Cover two flat baking platters with parchment paper.  Layer the slice apples snugly one against the other. Sprinkle them with one teaspoon of cinnamon. Bake the apples 20 minutes in the oven, or until nicely baked but still firm. Remove the apples from the oven and allow them to cool.

Meanwhile prepare the pastry as follows. Sift the flour in a bowl. Add salt, baking powder. Cut the butter into slices and drop them into the flour. Rub the butter into the flour with both hands until the flour and butter are assimilated and look like pale yellow crumbs. Break the eggs in a small bowl and whisk it with the vanilla extract with a fork. Add the egg to the flour and butter and mix well with a spatula until a smooth dough is formed. (This is the complicated bit).

The dough is perfect when it is soft to the touch yet firm enough to make a ball. Put the dough into the refrigerator to chill for fifteen minutes.

Turn up the oven temperature to 175 degrees Celsius. Cover the bottom of the springform with a piece of parchment paper. Brush the edges with softened butter. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Set 1/3 of the dough aside to roll a lattice top as the finishing touch to the tart. Take the remaining 2/3 of the dough and press it gently with the palm of your hands into the bottom of the springform. Press the dough all the way up the sides. Put the springform in the refrigerator for ten minutes to firm up the edges of the pastry before filling it.

To make the ribbons for the lattice crust, dust a clean working surface with some flour and a rolling pin with flour. Roll out the remaining pastry dough into an even layer about 0.5 cm thick. Cut the dough into 12 ribbons of equal width. Take the springform out of the refrigerator and fill it with the baked apples, sprinkling each layer with ground cinnamon. Once the apples are stacked all the way to the top, cover them with a lattice-work of pastry ribbons. The crust is easily created  by laying the pastry ribbons first vertically and then horizontally across the apples. Press the edges of the pastry ribbons along the edge of the springform.

Beat an egg yolk with a bit of cream in a bowl; then brush the pastry with it. Finally it’s time to bake the tart.

Place the appeltaart in the middle of the oven and bake it between 50-60 minutes or until the lattice crust is golden. Allow the tart to cool a half an hour if you can stand to wait. Cut the tart into thick wedges and top it with freshly whipped cream and rose petal honey.

Notes 

Although this story might be a long one, baking appeltaart from scratch truly isn’t. Practice makes perfect; this I promise.

 

 

 

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