Maman Blanc's Apple Tart
From the moment I came to Britain the small number of fruit and vegetables available puzzled me. Why had the country lost its own fruit and vegetable heritage? Retailers stocked a few English varieties, but most were foreign.
Vegetable Garden at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
So drawing on my own French heritage I began to try to rediscover our lost heritage, taste and flavours. It has been an extraordinary undertaking, culminating in an orchard being born at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.
Our orchard project allows me to put into practice my passion for excellence; exceptional and outstanding taste, locally sourced produced and respect for the heritage of food, with sustainable and environmentally sensitive production. It aims to include some 400 heritage varieties when it is fully complete. The first planting took place in April 2011 when some 800 trees of apple and pear.
Among the older varieties we have planted are four wonderful local British varieties of apple, all cherished as much for their flavour and particular culinary uses as for their beauty.
In their definitive The New Book of Apples, Joan Morgan and Elisabeth Dowle describe the Blenheim Orange, discovered in Oxfordshire in 1740, as having an "addictive plain taste flavoured with nuts" and its texture as "crumbly," while noting that it cooks to a stiff purée, keeping its shape, and so is useful for making apple charlotte. It was found growing against a boundary wall of Blenheim Park by a "local cobbler or tailor, who moved it into his garden," where "thousands thronged from all parts to gaze on its ruddy, ripening orange burden."
Ashmead's Kernel is an 18th century variety whose origins have been discovered by local historians, who credit it to William Ashmead's garden in Gloucester City. The tree, recorded in 1831, was then 100 years old. Its "strong, sweet-sharp intense flavour" is "reminiscent of acid drops." Its "firm, white flesh" makes it "long esteemed by connoisseurs." Though widely planted in the 19th century, it was a commercial flop, because of poor crops and its unflashy colouring that failed to catch the consumer's eye.
We are also planting an old variety from neighbouring Berkshire, Miller's Seedling, raised in the year of European revolution, 1848, at Newbury. Though it has "savoury, crisp yet melting, very juicy flesh" with "plenty of sweetness and refreshing acidity," it has faults that made it almost disappear. First it must be ripe, showing its "pink flushed over cream" colour, and second, it bruises easily. Its third drawback is that it only fruits every other year. Our trials convinced us that it is nonetheless worth the trouble.
The Reverend W. Wilks is another Berkshire apple, introduced only in 1908, and named after a secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society. A prized exhibition fruit, pale cream mottled with light orange and red stripes, it has recently been planted in Japan. It has specialised uses: It cooks to a sweet, pale lemon-coloured purée and makes an almost translucent-fleshed baked apple that scarcely needs sugar!
Maman Blanc's Apple Tart (Photo: Jean Cazals)
Maman Blanc's Apple Tart Recipe
The secret of this dish is choosing the right apple, with the right balance of acidity, sugar and a great apple flavour. My favourite apples to use are not as you might think a golden delicious, but cox's orange pippin, Worcester, Egremont Russet, or Braeburn. They will fill your kitchen with a wonderful apple aroma, they will caramelise and fluff up beautifully. Here, we have used apples, but plums, apricots or cherries make an equally delicious alternative.
- 250g Plain Flour
- 125g butter, unsalted, diced, at room temperature
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 medium egg
- 1 yolk
For the apple tart and the glaze:
- 3 Cox's Orange Pippin, Worcester, Russet or Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and cut into 10 segments per apple
- 1 tbsp butter, unsalted, melted
- ½ tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
For the shortcrust pastry dough:
- In a large bowl, rub together the flour, butter and salt using your fingertips until it reaches a sandy texture. Create a well in the centre and add the whole egg and yolk.
- With the tip of your fingers, in little concentric circles, work the eggs into the flour and butter mixture; then at the last moment when the eggs have been absorbed, bring and press the dough together to form a ball.
- Lightly flour your work surface and knead with the palms of your hands for 20 seconds, until you have a homogeneous consistency.
- Reserve 20-30g of dough, tightly wrap it in cling film and store for later. Wrap the remaining dough in cling film and flatten it slightly to 2cm thickness and refrigerate.
Lining the tart ring:
- Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. Place a baking stone or pastry tray in the middle of the oven.
- Place the dough in the middle of a large sheet of cling film 40cm x 40cm, cover with another sheet of cling film, roll the dough out to 2 - 3mm thick circle shape.
- Place the tart ring on the wooden peel lined with greaseproof paper. Lift off the top layer of cling film, (discard) then, lift the dough using the bottom layer of cling film closest to you, and drape into the tart ring. Lift the edges and push the dough into the ring; then, press the dough wrapped in clingfilm into the base of the tart ring.
- Ensure the dough is neatly compressed and moulded into the shape of the ring. This will minimise shrinkage or collapse of the dough.
- Trim the edges of the tart by using a rolling pin.
- Now, raise the height of the dough 2mm above the tart ring. You achieved this by pressing your index finger and thumb and pushing the pastry gently to the top of the pastry case all around the edge of the tart ring.
- With a fork, prick the bottom of the tart. Allow to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes to relax the pastry.
For the apple tart and the glaze:
- Lay the apple segments, closely together, overlapping onto the base of the tart case. Brush with the melted butter, sugar and lemon juice, dust liberally with icing sugar.
- Using the peel, slide the tart into the oven, onto the pre-heated pastry tray and cook for 10 minutes.
- Turn the oven down to 200°C; continue to cook for a further 20 minutes until the pastry becomes a light golden colour and the apples have caramelized.
- Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool for a minimum of one hour. Remove the tart ring and slide onto a large flat plate.
- Dust with the icing sugar and leave to cool slightly for 30 minutes before you serve.
Raymond Blanc is the owner and chef at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Oxfordshire.