Autumn – for me - is without a doubt the most delicious season of the year: Blackberries, elderberries, pears, pumpkin, damson plums and, my ultimate favourite, the humble apple.
The UK is renowned for its terrible weather, yet the primary factor responsible for the outstanding and unique taste of English apples is in fact our climate. Due to the lack of extreme temperatures combined with frequent rainfall, our apples are able to grow relatively slowly therefore are able to develop their full flavour potential. In the 19th century there were a recorded 2,500 different varieties of apples listed in the UK, but sadly that has now declined to only 12 common varieties.
I have been back in the tropics of Bangkok for the last week and, although certainly not as special or exotic for me as the abundance of colourful fruits such as mango, guava, passion fruit, papaya etc. I am still able to eat local apples. In South-East Asia, apples are most commonly commercially grown in East Java, Indonesia, but have also thrived in the high altitudes of Northern Thailand. Sadly, due to the longer shelf life of apples from the high chilling cultivars grown in USA, Australia, New Zealand and China, the majority of apples found in markets and supermarkets in Bangkok are imported and therefore local apple production has halted as Thai hill tribe farmers aren’t able to compete with the low prices of the imports.
But I am always impressed at how, despite the massive import of food and influence of Western food culture to Thailand, the Thais are devoted to their local produce. And in fact certain Thai farms are still growing apples, such as the lovely Phrao organic farm about 100km north of Chiang Mai. They grow many fruits - including rose apples – as well as herbs, vegetables, spices and even coffee. Founded by a Thai-American couple, they ‘operate the farm as a hobby’ and ‘strive to foster a self-sustainable lifestyle.’
There are hundreds of delicious sweet and savory recipes using apples, yet my ultimate favourite is cinnamon-spiced apple tart. I have pasted below two versions of this – one is a classic recipe that I am currently teaching at my Workshops in Bangkok and the other is vegan and gluten-free.
So whichever you prefer - happy baking!
Apple Rose Tartlets (Makes 12)
For the pie crust:
· 225g (8 oz) plain flour
· 3 tsp caster sugar
· 110g (4 oz) unsalted butter (plus a little extra for greasing the tin if using non-stick)
· 60ml (2 fl oz) chilled water
For the filling:
· 2 large apples
· 3 tbsp lemon juice
· 4 tbsp apple puree + 1 tbsp apricot jam for glazing
· 1 tbsp cinnamon
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 C / 350 F and start by making the dough.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour and sugar. Stir to combine. Add in the butter and break it up with your fingers so it looks like breadcrumbs and there are no pieces of butter larger than the size of a pea.
3. Add in a little water (about 20ml) and stir to combine. The mixture should just come together into a ball – if it seems dry, keep adding the water until it becomes dough.
4. Form the dough into a disc, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.
5. On a well floured surface, roll out the dough to 1cm thick. Use a biscuit cutter, a cup or a bowl and cut out rounds of dough. Fit each round into the cup of a cupcake tin and place back in the fridge to chill while you work on the apple filling.
6. To cut the apples and remove the core, place the apple upright and make straight cuts. Repeat on the remaining sides, you should have 2 large pieces, 2 small pieces and the core.
7. Using a sharp knife, cut the apples very thinly into half moons. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon and then microwave the apples for about 1 minute, until soft enough to roll.
8. Remove the apples from the microwave and while they cool, place about ½ tsp of applesauce inside each pastry cup.
9. To form the apple roses, place about 10 slices of apples on a flat surface, laying them out horizontally with the skin side facing you. Place each slice so it overlaps the previous slice by half. Begin tightly rolling the apples from one end to the other. Once you've got the basic rose shape, pick up the apples and add any additional apple "petals" around the outside, depending on how large you want the rose to be.
10. Put an apple rose in each cup of the muffin tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until crust is golden and apples are cooked through.
11. Once cooked and cooled, brush with some warm apricot jam.
Vegan Spiced Apple Tart (makes 1 9-inch tart)
(also featured here: http://formstudios.co.uk/blog/spiced-apple-tart)
For the crust
½ cup almond flour
½ cup gluten-free rolled oats
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil
For the filling
3 medium apples, sliced thinly
2 tbsp apple sauce
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease an 8-inch tart tin with coconut oil.
Add the almond flour, oats, maple syrup, baking powder, and salt to a medium bowl and mix until combined. Add the coconut oil and use your fingers to work it in until coarse crumbs form and the mixture holds together when pressed.
Combine apple slices, cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup in a bowl. Toss together until apple slices are equally coated.
Arrange apple slices on the tart crust – if creating a rose pattern, start with the larger pieces and work your way in to the middle.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the apples are tender and the crust is lightly brown. Let cool completely before slicing into wedges and serving with a dollop of soy or coconut yogurt.