Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Looking for a holiday dessert? This tart may be the answer. It stars a crown of apples, bathed in butter and brown sugar, paired with a filling of pecans and maple syrup. The ingredients are celebrated favorites, straight from America’s heartland; the presentation is upscale and classy. So, the overall impression is both homey and elegant, giving this pastry broad appeal.
The tart can be prepared the day before your holiday feast. It comes together in four straightforward steps that require minimal active time from the baker: (1) Make and pre-bake the crust (pre-baking prevents the crust from becoming soggy when the filling is added). (2) Slice and saute the apples. This enhances the flavor and assures that the fruit will be fully baked when the tart’s filling is done. (3) Make the filling, and (4) bake the tart.
What’s key to the tart’s success? Use fresh nuts and take the time to toast them; use real maple syrup, preferably Grade B (which has a more pronounced taste), and saute the apples only until they’re soft; you don’t want them to get mushy or start to disintegrate. Bake until the tart’s filling is set, but no longer or it will get hard and dry.
Apple Pecan Holiday Tart
(Make in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.)
Your favorite tart crust, pre-baked and cooled
3/4 cup whole pecans
2 golden delicious apples
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice, optional
1 tablespoon apple brandy, bourbon, dark rum, or apple cider, optional
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup apricot jam
2-3 teaspoons apple brandy, bourbon, rum, apple cider or water
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Place a baking sheet on the center rack (to catch any drips when the tart bakes). While the oven gets to temperature, toast the pecans until they’re fragrant (5 to 8 minutes). Remove the nuts, let them cool, set aside four whole pecans, and chop the rest into quarter-inch pieces.
Step 2: Prepare the apple topping: Peel and core the apples. Slice them into crescents a quarter-inch thick. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When it’s almost completely melted, sprinkle the brown sugar over it and whisk until blended and all the sugar dissolves (there should be no graininess if you rub the mixture between your fingers). Add the apple pie spice and liquor, if using, and whisk again. Put the apple slices in the skillet and stir gently until they soften and are well coated with the butter mixture (4 to 6 minutes on my electric stovetop). Remove the apple slices to a plate to cool slightly.
Step 3: Make the filling: Combine the granulated sugar, flour, and salt in a small bowl and whisk well. In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until blended, add the maple syrup and vanilla and whisk again. Pour in the sugar-flour-salt mixture and whisk until smooth and thoroughly mixed. Stir in the chopped pecans.
Step 4: Pour the filling into the pre-baked tart shell, make sure it’s level and the pecans are evenly distributed. Arrange the apple slices around the edge of the filling, so their edges touch but don’t overlap. Bake until the entire filling is set (it will set first at the tart’s edges and last in the middle). This takes from 30 to 38 minutes. If necessary, cover the edges of the crust with strips of aluminum foil to prevent it from becoming too brown.
Step 5: While the tart bakes, prepare the glaze: Thin the apricot jam with brandy (or your choice of liquid). Mash or remove any chunks of apricot; the glaze should be smooth.
Step 6: Place the baked tart on a cooling rack, arrange the four whole pecans in the tart’s center and brush the nuts and apple slices with the apricot glaze. Let the tart cool completely. It can be made a day before serving; store lightly covered at cool room temperature. Serve it warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It cuts most easily when it’s cool, so cut it before warming the pieces and serving.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.