Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Speaking of Cooking - A Recipe for Apple Tartain

There were a few things I'd meant to post before we left Australia that didn't quite make it up (on account of being busy packing and all the associated nonsense.)  Here's the first.

In our very last cooking classes before we left Australia, Saul-the-French-Chef taught us to make Apple Tartain.  It was a very Saul  sort of dish - an apple tart distilled to its essence: many apples, much butter, equal parts sugar, more butter, and a little slice of pastry - buttered delightfully.
            And though the tartain was ambrosial, it was the Nurses who Will Not who made the evening noteworthy.
            The Nurses who Will Not are a three nurses from the maternity ward of the local hospital, and weekly, they profess themselves horrified at every single scrap of evidence that cooking involves objects and processes biological. 
            I've nothing against dietary principles, but these ladies don't do meat, vegetables, carbs or basic mineral supplements.
            Raw meat and vegetables leave them appalled, and as for dairy - the obscenity of anything that comes out of the squeezy bit of a cow leaves them glagging and glaaaking and quoting heart-healthy statistics before the stove like they're reciting scripture.
            Saul smiles blandly and deploys butter like pre-emptive military strikes, and the rest of us are flummoxed as to what these women are doing in a Cordon Bleu cooking class in the first place.  Our initial suspicion was that they'd thought the class would be theoretical.  But after the first class, when they kept coming back -  imagine an unusually specific fundamentalist religious group, hanging around a skateboard park, casting dire looks across the half-pipe and passing out tracts on the sins of playing x-sports on Sundays.   As far as we can tell, these medical ladies have identified Saul as the Anti-Christ of Nutrition, and we've started to suspect that they're only staying around in the hopes of driving him entirely demented.

This evening, they didn't disappoint. As the slabs of butter came out of the fridge, the Nurses started shrieking.
            "O Lord!  O LORD - he's at it again!" They tittered, collectively.
            Saul put on a deeply blank face and commenced to cook.  He peeled and sliced the apples, dropped them into  a bowl of water and lemon juice, set a cast-iron skillet over a gas flame and set to melting butter and sugar -
            The nurses scowled and huffed their way through the demonstration, until the apples were simmering with the butter in the skillet, and Saul had  picked up a spoon to begin teaching us the accompaniment. 
            "We'll do an anglaise custard."  Saul said.  "And a note here, although I hate to have to say it, when you make an anglaise, try not to use a really thick cream - " (He sighed a little in regret.) "It tastes fantastic, but there's just too much fat in it.  You'll split your sauce."
            The scowls became a row of deeply tucked chins and mouths folded up like purses.
            "Well, there you go."  They said.  "Well there you go."
            "Finally some sense, don't you think?"
            "He's learning something at the last, isn't he?"
            While Saul whipped his anglaise with slightly more than necessary vim, Nurse #1 turned to her compadres-in-denial and said - very sotto voce  - "Are you coming back next term?"
            One of her compadres snorted and said in a scarcely less audible voice - "I hardly think so.  He's so lax.   In his…standards."
            They eyeballed the happily bubbling pan of apple and (mostly) butter on the stove below, and they snorted and pursed their lips some more and looked at each other with righteousness in their eyes.
            Saul eyed them right back and flipped another hundred grams of butter into the frying pan, and began cracking eggs.  Double-yolkers.
            The Nurses urrgh-ed and glaah-ed in disgust. 
            "It's so….. biological!"  One of them moaned, with her hand pressed to her mouth.
            Saul smiled.

It is a very good Tartain, and taken in moderation, would make an excellent addition to a dinner table once every six weeks or so.
            In defiance of those who eschew all dairy on glakker-y principle, and in praise of all standards that reckon that a whole brick of butter is never enough, here is the Recipe for an Apple Tartain.  And on Friday, the recipe for Vanilla Ice-Cream to accompany it.

Apple Tartan

I kg Granny Smith Apples
Bowl of Water
Juice of Half a Lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
Generous slab of butter
1/2 cup sugar
50-100 g butter (Depending how non-heart-friendly you are feeling) plus 1 tablespoon of melted butter for brushing onto pastry
Two small non-teflon-coated skillets
Baking paper
One sheet of puff pastry, chilled.

Place the puff pastry in the fridge to chill, and pre-heat your oven to 220C (400F).
Peel  1 kg of Granny Smith apples.  Juice half a lemon, and add the juice to a bowl of water.  Core the apples and slice thinly, then place the apple slices in the water to rest until needed.
Heat a small non-teflon-coated skillet  and drop in a generous slab of butter. (Go on, don’t be shy.  Add some more.  It’s good for you.) When the butter is melted and sizzling, add the apple slices, half a cup of sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Cool until the moisture from the apples has boiled off and keep cooking until the contents of the skillet have caramalized to a dark brown color.
While the apple is cooking, make a cartouche.
Short version: Using baking paper, cut a circle with a diameter that matches the diameter of your skillet.
Fancy cordon-bleau version: Take a square of baking paper whose side is the diameter of the pan you  will use to bake your tartan.  Fold it in half.  Fold it into quarters.  Fold it again - and keep folding until you have as narrow a triangle as you can fold without the paper slipping out of shape and sliding every which way.  Cut off the wide end of the triangle.  Unfold your paper - hopefully it will be in a circle!  (If not, try again.  It's only paper!)
Take another small non-teflon-coated skillet - or other shallow circular baking pan - and spray the bottom with a non-stick cooking spray.  Lay the cartouche on the bottom of the pan. 
When the apple has caramelized, remove the puff pastry from fridge.  Lay the puff pastry over a plate roughly the dimension of your baking pan and using the plate as a template, cut the puff pastry to fit.  (Don't remove the puff pastry from the fridge until you're ready for it.  You want to use it CHILLED.)
Spoon the caramelized apple on top of the cartouch in the pan.  Drape the puff pastry over the top of the apple and press firmly into place.  Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter.  Work fast - the heat of the apple will retard the rise of the pastry if you wait too long!
Bake for 20 minutes or so until the pastry is golden brown.  Remove the tartain from oven and let it sit for 2-3 minutes (otherwise the tartain will fall apart when you turn it) Turn pan over onto plate and serve with home-made vanilla ice-cream.  Enjoy!

* A variation.  Once out of the oven and while still hot, flatten the puff pastry with a tea-towel and you have a lovely biscuit crust.

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