THIS week, a dish that is simplicity itself.
Sometimes that’s just what you need, and after an incredibly busy week, I have to admit I was glad to happen upon this old French recipe which required very little in the way of effort or preparation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking more than life itself, but sometimes you just can’t face peeling another carrot or chopping an onion.
So I was fortunate to have come across this fiendishly simple dessert just at the right time, when I wanted to be in and out of the kitchen in a trice.
We’re making a rarer version of apple tart, based very much on the classic ‘tarte fine’, but with the addition of a layer of sweet jelly, made with red wine.
The ‘Tarte fine aux Pommes’ is one of France’s finest exports, a standard patisserie staple, and should be no more than a beautiful sheet of golden, buttery puff pastry topped with thinly-sliced apples and perhaps a dusting of sugar.
It’s there in the window of nearly every pastry shop from Dieppe to Marseille, as much a symbol of La Belle France as the cockerel, the beret-clad, Gauloise-puffing farmer in his indigo overalls, or the striking air traffic controller.
Recently I learned of a variation on this traditional recipe, made almost exclusively in the Loire valley, and my interest was piqued.
Tarte Vigneronne (translates as the Winemaker’s Tart) is your usual disc of buttery puff pastry, topped with those precision-sliced apples, and then brushed with a sweet jelly made using the local Chinon wine (a dark red made with Cabernet Franc grapes), and baked until slightly sticky.
The wine jelly is a new thing to me, and I think it’s wonderful stuff, and incredibly easy to make.
It will keep for weeks, and is also great with many other dishes. You could try it with a selection of good cheeses (I paired it with a big creamy Vacherin cheese over Christmas, and it was absolute heaven), or you could serve it as an alternative to cranberry sauce with roast lamb, turkey or game birds.
It’s also brilliant with bangers and mash, or meatballs, and would add a piquant, sweet edge to many sandwich fillings, such as roast ham or rare beef. A very handy thing to have in the fridge indeed.
You can see why it became popular among the Loire winemakers – it’s the perfect dish to whip up quickly after a hard day’s pruning, yet tastes so satisfying and sweet. I thought of what additions I should add, and could think of nothing much better than a dollop of slightly sweetened Chantilly cream, but I also thought that the chill of a nice ice-cream would work wonders too.
The classic pairing of apples and cinnamon is rarely a wrong move, so I decided upon making one of my quick parfaits, albeit with slightly less cinnamon than I’d normally use, ensuring that there’s just a whisper of spice in the ice-cream, so’s not to dominate too much. You want the apples and the rich wine-y jelly to stand out here.
So here we go, then. Once you have the jelly made, you’ve got a nice double-quick dessert or afternoon nibble that looks and tastes fantastic. You’ll have to find a bottle of good red wine (it’s not necessary to find Chinon, but if you do, well done!) and some jam sugar. Aprons on!
For the red wine jelly:
1 bottle good, tasty red wine
800g jam sugar
For the tart:
320g puff pastry
4 large Granny Smith or other tart dessert apples
A few teaspoons unrefined golden caster sugar
For the parfait:
6 large fresh, free-range egg yolks
1 tsp ground cinnamon
500ml double cream
A suitable litre-sized preserving jar for the red wine jelly
A container for the iced parfait
First, make the red wine jelly. This is best done at least a day before.
Put the wine and sugar in a heavy-based non-reactive pan, and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, bring to the boil and adjust the heat to a bubbling simmer.
After 20 minutes, spoon a little syrup onto a saucer and place in the fridge. After a few minutes, test to see if the syrup has begun gelling by drawing your finger through it.
It should wrinkle. If not, cook the wine for a few more minutes and test again.
When it starts gelling, pour into a sterilised jar, cover and allow to cool before refrigerating. It will set to a very soft wobble, which makes it easy to spread and brush.
Now for the parfait; whisk the sugar with the yolks and cinnamon until pale and fluffy, and whip the cream to a soft peak.
Fold the two mixtures carefully together, and spoon into a suitable container. Freeze for at least 12 hours.
To make the tart, heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Roll out the puff pastry to ½cm thickness. Place on a suitable baking sheet.
Peel, halve and core the apples, then slice into very thin slices. Arrange on the pastry, leaving about a centimetre of pastry all around.
Score a little way through the pastry around the apples, making a ‘frame’ for the tart.
Bake the tart until the pastry has risen, set and is starting to become golden.
Warm a few tablespoons of wine jelly, and brush liberally over the apples, being careful not to move them too much or go over the edges of the pastry.
Bake the tart for a further 10-20 minutes, until the pastry is a deep golden colour, and the jelly has become a sticky glaze.
Cool the tart on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving with a good scoop of the cinnamon parfait.