Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Barefoot in Brussels

Here I am with Ina Garten in Brussels, Belgium

Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to meet Ina Garten, the wonderful food network star known as the Barefoot Contessa.  We met in a little cafe in Brussels, Belgium, no less.  Normally I would never consider approaching a famous person when they are enjoying a quiet moment out in public but when you are in a foreign country and few people around you consider English their native tongue, rules are bent and you feel a little more welcome to approach another American, even if they are famous. 

After my initial double take (we had ducked inside in search of a loo) and some prodding by my sweet travelling companion, I introduced myself.  She was very gracious and both her and Jeffrey talked with us about our trip to Belgium and France.  The funniest part of the story is that our husbands who had been waiting outside for us began to wonder what had happened.  Our quick trip inside was taking longer than expected.  My husband Corey came bounding around the corner to hurry us along and the look on his face when he saw who we were talking to was priceless.  He knew that of all the famous people I could meet, Ina Garten was at the top of my list!  Forget Brangelina, I'll take Barefoot Contessa.  I hate to admit that I was actually giddy with excitement.  Meeting her was the icing on a very yummy cake-like trip to Europe (note the gastronomical metaphor or is it a simile?).

Before seeing the Gartens in Brussels, we had in fact made a couple of stops in Paris because of her show, including a visit to Poilane to see the famous bread chandelier.

This chandelier in Poilane is actually made of bread!

Outside the French bakery on a sunny afternoon in Paris

We visited the Cherche-Midi bakery (or boulangerie) on a beautiful afternoon in Paris.  Poilane is famous for their round loaves of bread, Viennese pastries and butter cookies in the shape of spoons (which I am determined to make someday).  We bought an apple tart to take to our hosts back in Belgium and it traveled quite nicely on the train.

So, where am I going with this discussion of delicious French bakeries and famous American chefs?  In honor of Ina Garten and Poilane, I am including her recipe for a French Apple Tart.  You may have seen it on one of the episodes of Barefoot Contessa.  I tried it with her pie crust recipe and with puff pastry dough.  Both were delicious but the puff pastry does "puff" and it can get messy.  So, here is an idea for your next gathering...an easy and elegant tart.  

My attempt at Ina's French apple tart

French Apple Tart

For the pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup ice water

For the apples:

  • 4 Granny Smith apples
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small diced
  • 1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water
For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 by 14-inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges. Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.
Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baler. Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices. Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. (I tend not to use the apple ends in order to make the arrangement beautiful.) Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup of sugar and dot with the butter.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the pastry puffs up in one area, cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out. Don't worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine! When the tart's done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn't stick to the paper. Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

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