Apple season 🍎🍏 has just begun and it’s time to hit the local apple orchard and take advantage of the abundance of that beautiful and versatile fruit. Now, when there is so many apple varieties available at farmers’ markets and stores, we can use them more frequently in cooking and baking, creating pies, tarts and apple sauces of our dreams.
For me, going to an orchard is a great fun and a chance to relax. There is something magical and delightful about being in an orchard; the scent of the ripe apples, browsing the rows of trees, admiring the beauty of different varieties, biting into their juicy flesh and indulging in their flavors – apple picking seems almost secondary in the amazing orchard experience.
I’d like to encourage you to take at least one trip to a local orchard this fall or go to a farmers’ market, if you haven’t done so yet. Look for apples you will never see in a store, sample them and compare their taste with the familiar omnipresent store varieties. Notice if the taste is more complex, apart from the sweet-tart combination, can you perhaps distinguish a hint of brown sugar flavoring in Zestar variety, or a bit of a spicy taste in the Sansa? Begin exploring apples and you will discover that they are quite a fascinating subject.
Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, and were brought to North America by European colonists, who were mainly interested in using them for hard cider to sweeten their harsh existence.
In the 19th century the number of apple varieties was enormous, exceeding 14,000. Back then, apples came in all shapes, sizes and colors, some had rough, sandpapery skin, some were as small as grapes, some were misshapen as potatoes. The number of apple varieties has shrunk to about 90 commercially grown in America today, and only several of them are available in the mass market, familiar to most of us.
As a source of sugar, apples have always been an important part of everyday life. In the old days, after the harvest, they were stored in cool places like cellars or big holes dug up in the ground to last for the entire year. The sweetness of apples represented fulfillment and prosperity in life: even today during the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) – it’s customary to eat apples dipped in honey to evoke a “sweet new year”.
Apart from a quite high sugar content, apples are a good source of antioxidants, potassium, Vitamin C and dietary fiber. The phytonutrients and antioxidants in apples may help reduce the risk of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.
Although apple symbolizes health and has many nutritional benefits, we have to remember that the acidity of a raw apple can damage the teeth. To prevent that, eat your apple in a single sitting or with other snacks such as almond butter to neutralize their acidity. Or eat them cooked, like in these delicious tartlets!😋
Ingredients for shortbread tartlet shells:
Yields about 10-12 tartlets, depending on the tartlet pans’ size.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 egg white (an entire egg white may make the dough a bit too hard)
- 2 sticks of butter, preferably European style, cut into small pieces
- 3 cups flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- parchment paper
- 1 round cookie cutter with a diameter about 1/4 inch bigger than the tartlet pans (optional)
- tartlet pans
- 1 flower shaped cookie cutter of the same diameter as the tartlet pans
- 1 egg, lightly beaten, for glazing
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a large bowl cream butter, sugar and salt. When well combined and fluffy add yolks – one at a time- and 1/2 egg white. Combine them well, add vanilla extract. Continue blending the ingredients until smooth, then gradually add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending it well with the mixture.
On a table or countertop place a sheet of parchment paper and transfer the dough from the bowl. Flatten the dough with your hands and cover with another sheet of parchment paper of the same size. Roll out the dough until about 1/4 inch thick. At this point, depending on the temperature in your kitchen, the dough might have become quite soft. Refrigerate it for about 20 minutes to make it easier to work with. Take it out from the fridge and cut out rounds about 1/4 inch larger than the diameter of the pans – to do this, I use a round cookie cutter, but it also can be done with a knife. Place the cut out rounds into the pans and press them down. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, until firm.
In the meantime, roll out the remaining dough (including the scraps from the cut outs) to 1/4 inch thick and using the flower shaped cutter, cut out the cookies to place later on top of the filled tartlets. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
Remove the tartlets from the fridge and pre-bake them for about 10 minutes until light golden. Remove from the oven and let them cool in the pans.
In the meantime prepare the stewed apples for the filling.
Ingredients for stewed apples:
- 12 oz. organic apple sauce, preferably without added sugar
- 3 organic apples (Ginger Gold, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious), peeled, cored and cubed
- pinch of cinnamon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 cup filtered water
- 1/8 cup raisins
Place the apple sauce in a saucepan and warm up over a medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add apples chopped into small cubes, water, vanilla and cinnamon and stir until well combined. Keep cooking for about 10-15 minutes, until the apples are soft and the mixture is medium thick. If it’s still too watery, cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat, add raisins, stir and let it stand for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. When cooled, divide the filling between the pre-baked tartlets, filing them a little more than half way. Place a flower shaped cookie on top of each tartlet. Glaze with the beaten egg using a small pastry brush.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden.
When tartlets are ready, you can sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top of each and garnish them with red currants, blueberries or small raspberries.
Note: In this recipe, I didn’t use any added sugar in the apple filling; the natural sweetness of the apples and raisins is sufficient and the filling will still have sweet taste. You can, however, add a bit of sugar to the stewed apples if you prefer it sweeter.