Rustic Apple Tart

Rustic Apple Tart

The nearest apple orchard is a half hour drive on a gravel road. Cars come away wearing jackets of dust and teeth chatter from the bumpy ride, but the bushels of fresh apples make the journey worthwhileAfter pulling up at the orchard a few weeks ago, eyeing the rows of apples trees lining the nearby hills, I was told by an exasperated owner that there were no apples to be had. It had been a bad year for the fruit and the orchard was bare before the season even hit its stride. I laughed at the ironyhow could an apple orchard be out of its namesake?before I was handed a small box for raspberries and shuffled off to the greenhouse to do some picking.

I came away with a pint of raspberries, a carving pumpkin, and arms scratched up from the thorns. My bushels of apples would have to wait.

Rustic Apple Tart

Rustic Apple Tart

The neighbors at my childhood home have an apple tree in their backyard that hangs over the fence. It is a difficult tree, producing ping pong-sized apples on the good years, and little to nothing on the bad. When my sister and I were much younger, we would pick the small apples from the low hanging branches as treats before dinner, burying our cores beneath the leaves to hide the evidence. I cannot imagine the neighbors or my parents becoming upset over our secretive afternoon snacks, but it was a game we played with ourselves.

I visited my home this past weekend and was welcomed by a tree full of large apples. The tree that had done so poorly had finally thrived. The neighbors asked me to take some off their hands so I picked a few boxes full. This year, it seemed the apples had come to me.

Rustic Apple Tart

Apple desserts, joined by warm spices, compose a chord in the flavors of autumn. Each year, I hunt for new ways to create and enjoy them. Still thinking longingly of the Plum Almond Galette from last July, I made this apple dessert in a similar vein. It feels like it fits somewhere between a pie and a tart, with a flaky crust and spiced filling to round it out the textures. It is relatively quick dessert to assemble, when compared against the complexity of assembling of a pie or the time spent blind baking a tart crust.

When drowned in warm caramel, it just feels right.

Rustic Apple Tart

The Rustic Apple Tart comes together using a pie crust (homemade or storebought) and thinly sliced apples. A cinnamon spiced almond filling rests below the apples to absorb juices while baking and round out the flavors. Though the tart can stand alone, do yourself a favor and serve it with warm caramel and whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash Biscuits
Two Years Ago: Caramel Apple Granola, Chewy Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Bars, Chai Spiced Rice Pudding, and Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Three Years Ago: Ants on a Log, Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread, Pumpkin Granola, and Chocolate Cherry Bread
Four Years Ago: Apple Tart with Almond Cream, Pumpkin Alfredo, and Baked Apple Chips

Rustic Apple Tart

1/4 cup ( grams) almond flour*/**
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Single crust pie dough 
3-4 large apples (6-8 small), peeled, cored and sliced thinly 
Milk or cream, for brushing
Caramel sauce, for drizzling (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, and spices. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough to roughly a 14-inch circle. Spread the flour mixture out evenly over the pie dough, leaving a 2-inch border around the outside. Place the sliced apples over the filling, arranging them in overlapping patterns. Fold up the pie dough over the filling, pleating the dough every two or so inches. Brush the visible pie dough with milk and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the dough and apples. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes to firm up the crust before baking.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (204 degrees C).

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples have visibly softened. Serve with a topping of whipped cream or side of vanilla ice cream, with a drizzling of warm caramel.

*To make a quick almond flour, process whole almonds in a food processor until it resembles a fine sand. It may take only a handful of seconds. Be careful not to overprocess or the almonds will release too much oil and begin to turn into almond butter.

**The almond flour may also be substituted for oat flour.

Vegan Caramel

Vegan Caramel

Since discovering my dairy intolerance two years ago, I've been on the search to find dairy-free replacements for many of my former beloved butter and cream-filled desserts. Cakes and cookies were easy to convert, ice cream and confections were a bit more challenging, but I've managed to eat and eat while since. Though I found my intolerance curse in the beginning, I have made due with the cards I've been dealt.

The first major victory for dairy-free replacements was vegan whipped cream. It put up a brief fight, but relented when a can of coconut milk came to the rescue (as it so often does for dairy-free alternatives). Eager for a second victory to add to my list, I chose to tackle caramel next. Certainly, this could not be more difficult, I told myself, as I started working on my first batch. 

Oh, but it was. 

For the next month, each weekend I created a new batch and, shortly thereafter, tossed it directly into the trash. As it turns out, dairy-free milk alternatives do not hold up like heavy cream; the fat structure is too dissimilar. The coconut milk caramel, once cool, developed a look quite similar to bacon fat. The soy milk caramel was lumpy and dropped off the spoon like heavy rain drops. It seemed, for a short time, that my dreams of dairy-free caramel would have to be tossed in the trash as well.

Vegan Caramel

As I let the idea simmer in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I might have to rethink the caramel in a more drastic sense. With a helpful bit of research, I went back to the ever faithful can of coconut milk. Instead of adding it to molten sugar, as I had done before, I simmered the milk down to a thick sauce with brown sugar to prevent the fat from separating. The brown sugar lends a caramelized flavor and the coconut milk provides the sticky, perfect-for-drizzling texture. I would suggest using light brown sugar instead of dark (or, ideally, a mixture of the two)the dark brown sugar (pictured) is on the edge of becoming too bitter for the final product.

While the vegan caramel tastes like real caramel to my dairy-free palate, it was described to me by dairy-lovers as "coconut butterscotch." Drizzled over ripe pears or apple slices, I doubt many would notice or care about the differences.  

Vegan Caramel

Vegan caramel is created from a mixture of coconut milk and brown sugar simmered down until it forms a thick syrup. It may be a different take on caramel but, for those with food restrictions, it is a dream. The caramel pairs well with fresh fruit and can (and should) be drizzled over pastries and bowls of ice cream. For a smooth final product, I recommend running it through a fine mesh strainer. 

For those of you who love the classics, this basic caramel recipe may be more your style.

One Year Ago: Classic Apple Pie
Two Years Ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Scones, Brown Butter Pear Muffins, Pumpkin Espresso Bread, and Triple Coconut Cookies
Three Years Ago: 3 Milk Coconut Cake, Blackberry Lemonade, Garden Tomato & Basil Tart, and Peaches & Cream
Four Years Ago: Butternut Squash Custard, Pumpkin Bread Pudding & Caramel Rum Raisin Sauce, and Banana Nut Bread

Vegan Caramel

Yields about 1 cup

14 ounces (397 grams) full fat coconut milk
3/4 cup (150 grams) light brown sugar, packed (or a mixture of half light brown/half dark brown sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce temperature, and simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, or until it thickens into a syrup. It can be simmered longer for a thicker sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

For a smooth sauce,  run the caramel through a fine mesh strainer.

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

With the sun setting earlier each evening and the daylight hours dwindling, I have unconsciously begun nestling in for the cold months to come. The freezer is well stocked. The sweaters have made their way to the center of the closet, pushing aside the t-shirts and summer dresses. Once I could see my breath outdoors, I made a large pot of vegetable soup to keep warm. It now feels like a cliche to say Winter is Coming, but I can see it in those around me, as we try to get in the last few weeks of autumn before winter's sleep.

It is the ebb and flow of life in the Midwest.

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

Autumn has the best flavorscinnamon, nutmeg, maple, molassesand I will argue it fervidly with anyone who objects. To me, it doesn't truly feel like the season until I open a can of pumpkin. Mixed with sweet, rich molasses, the pumpkin finds a home. I like to add a little cinnamon brown sugar topping to my pumpkin loaves to add a sweet, extra crunch. It is something my grandmother has done with her own breads, and I choose to follow her path. The bread is dense and moist, hearty and made for snacking.

I ate the slices plain, and I drizzled the slices with caramel; both ways are fabulous. As an unexpected recommendation, this pumpkin bread goes beautifully with a can of cola. The flavors and sweetness mingle in an unforeseen, but truly noteworthy manner. 

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

Pumpkin Molasses Bread is a spiced quick bread that encompasses the flavors of autumn. The bread is easy to throw together, but becomes difficult to wait for once it starts to fill the house with the scents of cinnamon and molasses. The bread is filling, which makes one slice a good choice for a morning snack (or breakfast).

One Year Ago: Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
Two Years Ago: Caramelized Leek, Basil, & Black Pepper Biscuits, Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins, Cinnamon Roll Cookies, and Bourbon Peach & Thyme Jam
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Beet Cake, Sweet & Spicy Peanut Chili Chicken Wings, Zucchini Bread, and Lemon Blueberry Scones
Four Years Ago: Fleur de Sel Chocolate Figs, Mixed Berry Crumble, and Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Avocado Buttercream

Pumpkin Molasses Bread

Yields 9 x 5-inch loaf

Pumpkin Molasses Bread 
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed 
 15 ounces (425 grams) canned pumpkin puree 
1/2 cup (120 ml)  molasses
1/4 cup (59 ml) vegetable oil  
3 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, pumpkin, molasses, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Fold in the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Topping 
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the pumpkin batter.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before cutting and serving.