Forbidden fruit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

Autumn is apple-harvesting season in many parts of the world. But although thousands of types of apple exist, Hong Kong supermarkets usually carry only about six varieties. Sweet, crisp apples are usually eaten raw but both sweet and tart varieties can be cooked into desserts and savoury preparations. Experiment with your favourite varieties for these dishes.

Caramelised apple tarts (pictured)

This is my version of the delicious tartelettes aux pommes from Poilane bakery in Paris. It's well worth using all-butter puff pastry - either ready-made (it's available in the frozen section of some shops, but at high prices) or, even better, your own.

Making puff pastry is time consuming but not difficult. For good recipes with excellent instructions, look at The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum or Bernard Clayton's The Complete Book of Pastry (I love this book, even though it uses volume measurements rather than the more accurate weights).

I use Granny Smith apples (often labelled 'green apples' at supermarkets) for these pastries but other firm, tart varieties also work.

6 large tart apples

125 grams granulated sugar

45 grams unsalted butter

1/4 tsp salt

15ml fresh lemon juice

6 puff pastry circles, about 12cm in diameter and 3mm thick

1 egg, for brushing

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut each half into four pieces. Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the sugar and stir to combine. Add the apple then cover the pan with the lid and cook for about three minutes. Remove the lid - the apple will have given off a lot of liquid. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the apple to a bowl, leaving behind as much liquid as possible. Cook the liquid over medium heat until it reaches a deep, dark brown caramel. As it's cooking, occasionally swirl the pan so it caramelises evenly. Return the apple and any liquid back to the pan and stir to coat with the caramel. Cook over a medium-low heat until the apple is tender and the caramel coats the pieces. Allow to cool.

Use a rolling dough cutter (the type used for pizza) to cut six circles from thin sheets of puff pastry. Place the circles on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or aluminium foil and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Arrange six to eight apple pieces over each circle, leaving a 1.5cm border around the entire perimeter. Fold the perimeter over the apples to create a border. Refrigerate the tarts while preheating the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. When the oven is hot, brush the border with beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake the tarts at 220 degrees for 10 minutes, or until puffed and starting to brown. Reduce the heat to 200 degrees and continue baking for about 10 more minutes or until the pastry is fully cooked. Serve warm.

Apple butter

This puree is called 'butter' because it's thick and spreadable, and some people use it as a topping for toast instead of butter (it's actually better with both). My favourite way to use it is in a tart: spread a sugar dough base with a thin layer of apple butter then top with very thinly sliced apples placed slightly overlapping in concentric circles. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon sugar then bake at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

The apples for this recipe are used in their entirety because the skin and seeds contain pectin, which helps with the thickening. You need a food mill (a sieve with a rotating blade to force the mixture through the holes), which will puree the apples but leave behind the skin and seeds. The cinnamon and cloves are optional (I don't include them). Using several types of apples makes the flavour of the puree more complex: choose a mixture of sweet and tart apples of the softer varieties.

3kg apples

1 litre unsweetened apple juice

Sugar (white, soft brown or a mixture of both)

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 small cinnamon stick and/or 1/4 tsp cloves, optional

30ml fresh lemon juice

Wash the apples then chop them roughly. Put the apple and apple juice in a large pan and cook, partially covered with the lid, over a medium flame. Stir occasionally until the liquid simmers and the apple starts to soften. Uncover the pan and continue to cook until the apple is mushy. Remove from the heat and force the apple through a food mill set over a bowl to catch the puree. The food mill will occasionally get clogged with apple skin and seeds; to clean it, rotate the blade counter-clockwise. Weigh the apple puree: for every 500 grams of puree add 300 grams of sugar. Cook the apple, sugar, salt and spices (if using) over a low-medium heat in a large pan. Stir frequently so the mixture doesn't burn. It's ready when the puree is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. Stir in the lemon juice. Ladle into sterilised canning jars and cover tightly with sterilised lids (to sterilise, soak the jars and lids in boiling water to cover, leave for five minutes then drain and air-dry). Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes then cool. If you don't want to process the jars, store the apple butter in the fridge. Makes enough to fill at least 10 250-gram jars.

styling Vivian Herijanto



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