Baby's First Puff Pastry (Chez Panisse Country Apple Tart)


Here is where the lack of photos in Chez Panisse Desserts can be liberating to those of us who proceed into recipes with a certain amount of "okay, whatever you say!" I feel the same way when diving into an Elizabeth Zimmermann knitting pattern. Woman knows what she's talking about, right? I had understood puff pastry to be difficult and felt it was destined to go awry whenever I finally tried it. We have all had horrible croissants, n'est pas? But this time, I saw in my mind a regular old fluted fruit tart with pâte brisée, which for me is no sweat (if the kitchen is cold, at least). Nevermind the boatload of butter here, and the fact that the dough is decidedly savory - it contains about 1/4 rye flour and can be used for meat pies. Nevermind even that this is called "country puff pastry." A little cognitive dissonance never hurt anybody.

Which is why I was so confused when the recipe did not call for a tart pan. You are supposed to just lay the shell out on a baking sheet and throw the apples on. That's where my pliant attitude toward the recipe ended - as you can see from the photo above, I nonetheless put it into a tart pan. It was only then, by the time the apples were physically laid into the shell, that it occurred to me that this was supposed to puff. At that point, I could only cross my fingers and hope I had done correctly whatever it was I was supposed to do.

Did it work? I think so:

Pouf!  Chez Panisse Country Apple Tart

Turns out, it puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) was not that difficult, but it *was* time consuming. I may also have benefited from a certain amount of beginner's luck, as when I first tried pâte brisée. The process is remarkable - I wish I had photographed it. Basically, you combine the flours and reserve a little, then cut in 1/4 of the butter, add water, and chill. Then you take the rest of the butter and combine it with the little bit of flour you had reserved, shaping this into a butter/flour brick. And this is the neat part - you roll out the first piece of dough, and use it to sort of "wrap" the butter brick like a package, then you roll out and re-fold the whole thing about six times over the course of three hours. Somehow, the outside "wrapping" dough never breaks, and in the end you have a perfectly blended dough. Next time, I'll take pictures. Chris can testify that it's pretty cool.

apple tart 013

The product was, I thought, impressive. This tart is all about the apples: there is only one tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon added. While syrupy apple pies have their time, it's apple season, so you might as well let the fruit be the star. If you're looking for it, you can also taste the rye flour, which lends a rustic bite. I enjoyed this, and I think the folks to whom I force-fed it so that I would not have to eat it for breakfast every day this week enjoyed it, too.

My one complaint is that the top layer of apples dried out a little on baking, which is surprising since they were juicy McIntosh. They didn't actually taste that dry, they just looked a bit dry. I think next time I'll try the glaze smitten kitchen used on her version of that other Chez Panisse Apple Tart. Also, it would have been prettier had I taken a bit more care to fold the dough daintily around the apples.

But overall, baby's first pâte feuilletée dish was a success. The best part is that there are two more shells sitting in our freezer for when we crave, say, a duck pie?

Posted by jess at November 17, 2008 7:55 AM | TrackBack

That looks absolutely delicious!

Your pâte feuilletée with rye would be smashing in this, which is Mark's favorite thing I make ever, I think. I'll have to try it next time!

Posted by: Adrian at November 17, 2008 9:35 AM

god, i would give anything now just to have a wee nibble of that yummy buttery crust. *whimpers*

Posted by: Sandra at November 17, 2008 9:53 AM

Can I have a slice? Please?

Posted by: knithoundbrooklyn at November 17, 2008 10:30 AM

Oh, wow! I've never had the patience to make pate feuilletee... Your tarte aux pommes looks delish :)
Oh, and in France, the top layer usually gets very dry, much more than in your picture. Maybe it concentrates the apple flavor? In fact, when I was little, I was confused by american apple pies: the texture felt more applesauce-ish than pie-ish.

Posted by: Veronique at November 17, 2008 1:05 PM

I so want to make puff pastry, but it scares the heck out of me. How long did the whole process take? Did you have to freeze a cookie sheet to roll the dough out on to keep everything cold while you were working on it?

Posted by: yaiAnn at November 17, 2008 6:28 PM

1) you did not force feed us
2) it was DELICIOUS

Posted by: carrie m at November 17, 2008 6:46 PM

That tart looks amazing. The 3 hour process for the puff pastry is might intimidating though. I have never had much success with dough of any kind, and one that is worked in that many steps would be the end of me. But knowing what the end result could be, I might just have to toss those fears aside!

Posted by: Lisa at November 17, 2008 7:11 PM

oh god that tarte looks AMAZING!

Posted by: gleek at November 18, 2008 8:07 PM

jess! It looks perfect. That is how mine comes out except for the tea house i use a pan to bake my tarte. I got this great one where the bottom pops out and the tarte is perfect for slicing. You can make a few in advance and roll them out on wax paper and the roll it up and freeze them or store in fridge for 2 to 3 days. They unroll easily on the wax paper.

Congrats on a lovely looking (and tasting) tarte!

Posted by: aimee at November 20, 2008 4:33 AM

Maybe it concentrates the apple flavor? In fact, when I was little, I was confused by american apple pies: the texture felt more applesauce-ish than pie-ish.

Posted by: Tramadol at August 6, 2009 12:10 PM
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