I lost a dear friend this fall, my cat Ella. While I don’t quite consider my pets ‘children,’ there is no question that they are very important parts of my life. Since I work from home, they are my constant companions all day long, from the initial ‘wake-up call’ (cats kneading your chest is far more effective than any alarm clock I’ve ever had!) to the evening walk with the dog, our routines give structure and comfort to my day.
Ella came into our lives in 1998, from a local shelter. After spending the first few days holed up in our apartment front closet, she decided that we WERE worthy of her love and attention after all, and deigned to come out. Since then, there’s been no doubt that she was the head of our household, even when WE deigned to bring home a dog. The dog quickly learned what we already knew- it just took a few claws to the face for her to figure it out…don’t mess with Ella.
Ella also figured into my business, Tartella. I did not name the company after her, per se, but her name was in a list of words that I liked. Combined with one of my favorite baked goods, it was the clear favorite of all the names I came up with.
In her honor, and to get even more mileage out of the combination of Ella + Tart, I decided to come up with a new tart recipe in her honor. I dragged out all the apple tart recipes that I have used in the past, and cobbled together a new recipe, using what I thought were the best, or most intriguing, elements of each. It’s in the oven right now, so I have yet to taste the results…I’ll wait to post until I think it’s picture perfect!
ELLA APPLE TART
(makes 1 10″x14″ tart)
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) COLD unsalted butter
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
3 Tbs. ice water, or more as needed
1 tsp. lemon juice
Apple Tart Ingredients
4 Tbs. butter
1/8 cup dried, edible lavender buds
2 granny smith apples
2 macintosh apples
1/3 cup sugar
Optional Tart Topping
1/4 cup apricot jelly or jam (i love the peach apricot jam from sarabeth’s in ny!)
1 Tbs. Calvados (apple brandy), rum, or water
- put the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. stir to combine and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- cut the butter (from the Crust Ingredients list) into 1/2 inch cubes, then add to the COLD flour mixture and toss until each cube of butter is coated with the flour mixture. use a pastry blender or your hands (or a food processor, if you prefer) to cut the butter into the flour, until the ingredients become crumbly, and the butter pieces are slightly smaller than peas.
- stir the ice water and lemon juice into the dough, using a fork to mix. if necessary, add more ice water until the dough is shaggy and holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hand.
- dump the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and press down and forward onto sections of the dough, to distribute the butter pieces. gather the sections together and create a ball. flatten the pastry out into a disk approximately 1 inch thick. wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour (overnight is fine, too!).
- melt butter (from Tart Ingredients list) in a small pot over med-hi heat. remove pot from heat and add lavendar buds, swirling to combine. cover pot and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes.
- preheat the oven to 400˚.
- line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- roll out the dough slightly larger than 10×14″. using a ruler and knife, trim the edges. place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.
- peel the apples and cut then in half (from stem to core). remove the stems and cores with a paring knife. slice the apples cross-wise into 1/4″ thick slices, and put the slices into a bowl. (note: i leave out the end slices, for more uniform slices- they also make great snacks while baking…better than eating dough!)
- warm lavender butter again and strain through a fine sieve into the bowl of apples, pressing lavender with the back of a spoon to extract as much as possible-discard the lavender buds. carefully mix the apples to ensure the slices are coated with the lavender butter (try not to break the slices!).
- place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making rows on each side until the pastry is covered with apple slices. fill in any remaining gaps with individual slices or ‘mini-rows.’ (see image below, note that I do not actually call for the ‘dots’ of butter on top in this recipe, since I think the apple slices are coated with enough butter for baking)
- sprinkle tart with 1/3 cup sugar and place in preheated oven.
- bake for 45 mins to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. rotate the pan once during baking. the apple juices and butter may burn on the pan a bit, but the tart will be fine!
- take the tart out of the oven, and slide the paper and tart onto a rack. allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.
- OPTIONAL: meanwhile, heat the apricot jam or jelly with the calvados, and brush the apples and pastry crust with the 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. Note: from a flavor perspective, this tart doesn’t NEED this top layer, but I do like the glazed look that the jam gives to the tart…your call!
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There are a few key elements that I used to make this tart in Ella’s honor- one, the shape. I actually prefer free-form, rustic tarts. But, Ella was a bit of a princess and ruled with an iron fist. So, I kept these edges tight and clean. Also, the lavender infused butter was a nod to a cat that loved summer above all, spending hours in the backyard with me, tucked behind my herb garden (the rosemary bush seemed to be her favorite, but I thought that lavender and apple was a better combo!) while I gardened. I miss her dearly, but baking this tart every once in a while seems a good (and sweet!) way of keeping her memory with me.