I have a zillion apples to get through after apple picking. There's something about fall that makes you bypass even the farmers markets and head for the orchards to pick your own. Is it the gorgeous foliage views, the hay rides, the cider doughnuts? When we first arrived, the aroma of cider doughnuts was intoxicating, and they tasted just as good as they smelled. With doughnuts in our bellies, we picked more apples than we needed. And I knew the purpose most of them were meant for: pies. With that in mind, the bulk of our apples were Golden Delicious and Mutsu, which hold their shape well when baked.
I was looking for a new way to do apple pie -- I've done traditional double crust, tarts, turnovers, hand pies, and crostatas. The recipe I chose involved simmering the apples with some Red Devoe pears in a bath of melted butter and vanilla bean, and they were baked into the pie topped with a walnut lattice crust. Apple, pear, butter, and vanilla bean combined are truly heavenly, and the chunky pieces of fruit were juicy. Except... the bottom crust was soggy and the recipe called for an unusual lattice that came with no instructions: the strips were wide with no spaces between them. I've made several lattice pies before so I wrangled one, but it was fussy. So I set about re-creating the recipe.
Enter this tart. It's shallower than a pie and has a lot less fruit, so no soggy bottom crust. No tricky lattice dough to contend with, and no walnuts to blend into it. I kept the blend of pears and apples, sprinkling them with vanilla sugar and dotting the whole thing with cold butter. Much easier and faster than the pie, which was a production. I might cut the fruit thicker next time because I did miss the big, juicy chunks from the pie. It also didn't have as much vanilla-butter sauciness as the pie, but tarts are generally drier like that. Don't substitute that vanilla bean with extract! Go ahead and splurge on a bean, because it makes a world of difference. Now I've just got to work my way through about a bushel more of apples!
Vanilla-Bean Pear & Apple Tart
For the crust:
1¼ cups pastry flour (if you can't get it, use all-purpose flour)
Pinch of coarse salt
8 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup cold water
For the filling:
3 small baking apples like Golden Delicious, Mutsu, or Granny Smith, totaling just over 1 pound
1 pear (I used Red Devoes, and then a Bartlett)
Juice of half a lemon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ vanilla bean
4 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter, and pulse until there are crumbs the size of small peas. Add the water a little at a time while pulsing, then check the mixture. It should hold together as a dough when you squeeze a small handful. You may not need all the water.
Empty the dough into a bowl and knead together just until combined. Form the dough into a disk and wrap with cling wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, and up to two days. If chilling for longer than 30 minutes, let it rest at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes for ease of rolling.
Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour, then roll out the dough to a 13-inch circle. Carefully roll the dough onto the pin, then unfurl into a 10-inch quiche pan. Carefully tuck the dough into the edges of the pan, then fold the overhang of the dough downward to create a reinforced edge. With a knife, trim away the excess dough. Chill the dough, pan and all, in the freezer for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.
Peel and core the apples and pear. Cut the fruit into ¼-inch-thick half-moons. In a large bowl, toss fruit with the lemon juice immediately to prevent browning. Take the pan out the freezer, and begin layering in the apples and pear. You may not need all the fruit. Lay the fruit in concentric circles, each slice covering half of the previous slice. When you get to the center of the pan, microwave the remaining fruit in the bowl for 1 minute to make it soft and pliable. Finish layering the apple and pear slices, then return the pan to the freezer for another 30 minutes. These resting and chilling periods will relax the dough, preventing shrinkage and keeping it flaky.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Cut and scrape out the seeds of the vanilla bean half. In a small bowl, rub together the vanilla seeds with the sugar until incorporated. When the oven comes to temperature, scatter the vanilla sugar evenly over the filling, then dot with the cold butter. Bake about 50 minutes, until the fruit begins to brown and the tip of a knife pierces the fruit easily. Let the tart cool and set before slicing and serving.