My recent trip to Bordeaux made me nostalgic for the first time I was there. It was about 4 years ago when I was living in Paris. Seven of us took a weekend road trip. We spent the weekend driving around the Medoc, visiting wineries, and having a good time. For all but the one French man in the group, it was our first time there, and everything was new to us. We drove by one grand chateau after another, each hovering over its vineyards like proud yet protective parents. We learned about Bordeaux wines through the stories of each wine maker and saw centuries old wine-making estates. It was a magical weekend both because of what we saw and learned and also because of the company.
During this trip, I passed the Pavillon de Margaux, both a bed and breakfast and restaurant, and remembered the lunch we had eaten there. Because Chateau Margaux is closed on the weekends, we were unable to visit. Instead, we had lunch at Pavillion de Margaux. From our lunch table, we could look out the window and see the vineyards of Chateau Margaux.
There are two dining areas, one inside of 19th century decor and the other, an enclosed patio. We chose our lunch from one of the "menu" options. In France a "menu" is a meal option, usually some sort of combination of entree, plat (main dish), and dessert for a fixed price. The actual menu (as we call it in the U.S.) is called la carte. (I'm forever forgetting this. I quickly realize my mistake when I see the waiters' annoyed faces after I've asked for le menu.) At the Pavillon de Margaux, this menu option also included an amuse buche and ended with mignardise (little sweets) of chocolates and a coffee. Not exactly your light lunch. Of course, we shared a bottle (or two - there were 7 of us) of Bordeaux wine. As this region is also part of the "land of duck," my main course was a duck dish. I remember being thoroughly stuffed after this meal, but I also remember the dessert. It was an apple tart that was wrapped up in flaky phyllo dough and looked like a little present on the dish. I had never seen a tart made like that in Paris. The crust and apples were two contrasts in textures. The flaky phyllo was crisp and crunchy against the soft, cooked apples.
After a little research, I found that the tart is popular in the southwest of France, especially around the area of Gascony. Originally the dough was a hand-stretched strudel-like one, but now they use phyllo to make the crusty (croustade) top. As apples are again in season, and Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) is just around the corner, I thought I would recreate this dessert. It's a nice twist to the traditional "apple pie" and was quite easy to recreate. The trickiest thing is mastering phyllo dough, but I have a few notes, after the recipe, to help you. For me this apple tart also brings back memories of my first trip to the Bordeaux region and this last one. More detailed information on the chateaux I visited and the city of Bordeaux will be for another post(s). Until then, I'm sharing a few photos from my recent visit to the Medoc along with this recipe. I hope you try it, and if you do, please let me know what you think of it.
Join me in Provence in 2013 for a French Pastry Culinary Vacation and learn how to create these and other classic French pastries! Details here: Pastry-Making Vacation in Provence
Croustade aux Pommes
Inspired by Pavillon Margaux and adapted from Ma Cuisine Bordelaise by Myriam Daumal
(Makes 4 individual tarts)
5 Granny Smith apples
Scant 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)**
2 tablespoons Armagnac, cognac or brandy
For the crust:
About 12 sheets phyllo dough
1/2 cup clarified butter, melted (see below)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Peel, core and slice apples 1/4-inch thin. Mix together the sugar and the cinnamon, if you're using the cinnamon. Add to the apples and stir so that sugar is coating each slice. Add the armagnac and let the apples macerate for one hour. Strain the liquid from the apples.
Preheat an oven to 350 F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter the rim of four 4-inch tart ring molds.
To assemble each tart: Brush a sheet of phyllo with some of the melted butter. Slice the sheet in half so you have two squares (or fat rectangles). Place one of the cut sheets into a mold, and place the other on top perpendicular to the first sheet. Repeat this with another sheet and place in the mold in the same manner. You should have 4 layers of phyllo in the mold. Press the pyhllo down and against the buttered sides. Fill the mold with apples 3/4-inch in height. Take another sheet of phyllo dough and brush it with butter. Slice it in half the same way and place one of the cut sheets on top of the apples, and the second sheet of phyllo on top of it. Fill the mold with more apples about 1/2-inch in height. Fold the excess layers up and over the apples. Fold and/or crinkle the excess edges up and on the top of the tart. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle some of granulated sugar on top. Repeat this procedure for the three remaining tarts. Place into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the phyllo crust is a golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing the mold. (As long as the phyllo hasn't fallen outside of the ring, you can lift the mold up over the tart.) If the mold can not be lifted up to remove, you can remove it by sliding a four-inch piece of cardboard under the tart, lifting the tart and lifting the tart up from the mold. The tart should be served warm. Dust with powdered sugar. It goes perfectly with both caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. Enjoy!
**Note: The French would probably think it sacrilege that I would add even a pinch of cinnamon to this tart, but I like a little cinnamon with my cooked apples. If you want the true Gascon dessert, leave the cinnamon out.
Melt the butter on low heat just until it bubbles. Skim the bubbles, which are the impurities in the butter. Let it sit and separate. The water and milk solids will sink to the bottom. You can pour off or ladle off the butter fat that has come to the top, and discard the rest. About 3/4 cup of butter will render 1/2 cup of clarified butter. Using clarified butter with phyllo dough, allows you to have crispier layers of dough as there will be no water/moisture added from the butter.
Working with Phyllo Dough:
Many people hate working with phyllo dough, but with practice you won't think twice about using it. There are a few important things to remember. Defrost it in the refrigerator, not on the counter. When working with it, it's important to keep it moist and work as quickly as possible. To keep it moist, I lay a dry paper towel over the top and place a damp dish towel over the paper towel. The moisture from the dish towel will soak the paper towel a little but not too much. Before I open up the phyllo dough, I have my work area all set up. Then, I am able to work as quickly as possible. Once you've defrosted the phyllo dough, you will need to use all of it. You can make these tarts in advance and freeze them, or you can make various appetizers with them. (A few appetizers suggestions coming soon.)