Jacques Pépin’s Apple Tart

Pepin's apple tart

As you might suspect, Japanese kitchens are tiny, so making the most of available space is essential. Home supply stores sell a variety of devices designed to make storage more efficient, such as over-the-sink countertop extenders and organizers for holding plastic wrap, tin foil, and waxed paper (my favorite). Not only is storage limited, but the appliances are considerably smaller, too. When renting an apartment, it is almost always the tenant’s responsibility to provide kitchen appliances. This means no mammoth Sub-Zero refrigerators or six-burner Viking ranges. Instead, most people use a two-burner gas stove or simply a butane burner. Refrigerators are diminutive as well, so one has to stock up on fresh produce much more often, which is quite a good thing in my opinion. Large American-style ovens simply don’t exist; I do all my baking in a countertop microwave-cum-convection oven.

All of this may seem like a burden, but it really forces you to be efficient when shopping and to use cooking techniques that extract maximum flavor with a minimum input of ingredients and equipment. Japanese food is well-suited to this kind of cooking, thanks to its emphasis on fresh ingredients and subtle flavors. However, I’ve also found that certain Western foods – even baked goods – can benefit from the minimalist kitchen approach.

This apple tart recipe, tucked away in the last pages of the January/February Saveur 100 issue, is a classic example. There were no glamour shots accompanying the recipe, which is in fact what drew me to it. Instead, you’ll find Jacques Pépin, practically beaming with kindness and proffering the tart. Something about the photo – the slightly uneven edges of the tart’s crust, Pépin’s quirky charm, the casually arranged apples, the general unpretentiousness of it all – made me want to make the tart immediately.

I did, and even with several modifications, it was a great success. It is a quiet, unassuming tart, the sort that goes best with afternoon coffee or tea, but a delicious one nonetheless. The crust was delightfully crisp and buttery, with just a hint of sweetness, while the wedges of glazed apples remained moist and toothsome. Best of all, it was a cinch to make, even in a Japanese kitchen.

Maman’s Apple Tart

Adapted from Saveur

The great advantage of this recipe is that it requires no special equipment. For the step of cutting the fat into the flour, the recipe directs using one’s fingers, rather than a pastry blender or food processor. Believe it or not, this is one of the most effective ways to create a tender, flaky crust.  Rubbing the butter into the flour manually means you’ll be less likely to cut it up too finely, which would prevent the formation of the large pockets of steam that make for an ideal crust.  Your crust will also benefit greatly if you have poor circulation in your hands, as I do, since cold fingers will ensure the butter remains chilled. The ingredients were also all ones I usually have on hand, although in lieu of the apricot jam I used some lovely mikan preserves procured at the local produce stand. I made this in a tiny 5-inch tart pan that I picked up at the 100-yen store, so I’ve adjusted the recipe to reflect that change. The original recipe, which calls for a 9-inch pie plate, can be found here.

Serves 3-4

1 1⁄4 cups flour

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 1⁄2″ cubes and chilled

2 tablespoons milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 large sweet-tart apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 12 wedges, each wedge halved

1 tablespoon mild-flavored jam or preserves of your choice

Heat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add 6 tablespoons butter and, using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form pea-size chunks. Add milk and egg and stir lightly until just combined. Bring dough together with your hands. Transfer two-thirds of the dough to a 5-inch tart pan and, using lightly floured fingers, press dough into bottom and sides. Wrap the rest of the dough in plastic wrap and reserve for another use.

Arrange as many apple pieces as will fit side by side on bottom of pie plate, pushing gently into the dough. Place a few apple pieces in the center of the tart. Sprinkle apples with remaining sugar and dot with the remaining chilled butter. Bake until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Spoon/spread preserves over the tart and bake for 5-10 minutes more, being careful to not let crust brown to much. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

6 thoughts on “Jacques Pépin’s Apple Tart

  1. Now this is creative – paring down a tart recipe to a small size. Great idea, and I think that even I could do it!

  2. I love how the unpretentiousness of the photo made you want to make this delicious looking tart. As a fan of apples who rarely has access to fancy kitchen appliances, this has been added to the to make list.

  3. I hear you on the food photography, as someone who often feels my own complicity in the making of food-obsessed images. There’s some part of the Georgia O’Keefe School of Biology that makes its way in whenever my camera and my bowl meet. Or at lesser times, the brute tutorial documentarian.

    What’s do you think is next in photographing food? Pepin’s visible delight with his own bumpy creation seems like one humane direction.

    • I’m glad you brought this up. Recently, I was reading an online tutorial about food photography. In the comments, one person offered their approach: “When I photograph food, I approach it as if it were a miniature landscape.” Of course, now I can’t recall where I read this or who wrote it, but it definitely resonated with me. What if we photographed our food in such detail, and with such precision, that it became nearly unrecognizable as something edible? Some people may find this to be too clinical, and it’s definitely not going to sell magazines, but I find it conceptually intriguing.

  4. I need to make that tart. I love the simple ones like this…so pleasant.

    I sat on a plane next to Pepin and his wife, probably 25 years ago. We were all on our way to the Virgin Islands. We had a very nice conversation. They had packed a big cooler with French food staples for their trip!

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