Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Food Desert Project - Easy Apple-butter Almond Tart

When I first saw this post on Smitten Kitchen (via David Lebovitz, another blogger I follow, who got his inspiration from the Wednesday Chef, who got it...you get the idea) I immediately thought of my Food Desert project.  After all, any food desert is going to have jam or jelly, and I really liked the easy, no-roll tart shell.  I wanted to tweak it a bit, though - after all, if we're going to have dessert in the Food Desert, it would be nice if it offered us some nutrition as well as a tasty, relatively easy snack - btw, if you're looking at the length of this post and thinking "Easy? What is she thinking?" just try it out: it's much harder to describe than it is to do.  Nutrition Information.*

So I did a bit of tweaking to the recipe - most notably, I filled mine with homemade no-sugar-added apple butter - a recipe that concentrates the nutrients in applesauce and sweetens itself as the natural sugars caramelize.  This meant that the tart shell needed to take on a bit more flavor, and as I wasn't certain that almond extract was going to be readily available in the food desert, I subbed out the cornmeal and some of the flour for almond meal - easy to make from packaged almonds.  I also took out a tablespoon of butter just to make it a single stick, added back half of the egg white, and I changed to brown sugar...'cause I like it!  The resulting tart has a terrific flavor: sweet from the brown sugar, tart from the apple butter, with a wonderful floral quality from the almonds.

First of all, the apple butter:  you may as well make a lot of it, it lasts nearly forever.  (I decided not to add spices, but traditionally apple butter is flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; if you want that, add it in the first step.)  Simply pour two 24-ounce jars of applesauce into a slow cooker, cover it  and cook on low, scraping down the sides occasionally, for 8-12 hours: the applesauce should change color to a rich brown.  Remove it from the cooker and allow it to cool a bit, then toss it in the blender and blend until smooth.  From the blender, usually I put it on the stove in a deep pot on low heat, with the lid on slightly askew (it spits; there is a fair amount of cleanup involved here but the slow cooker doesn't allow for the evaporation you want) until the apple butter reduced to half of its initial volume.  It should have a silky texture and the color of a rich, deep, caramel sauce.  This step can be completed several days in advance; store the apple butter in a sealed container for up to two weeks in the fridge, or indefinitely in the freezer.

To make almond meal from whole almonds - it's a good idea to freeze your almonds overnight before you grind them, and pulse them in your food processor or blender gently, as this will help prevent it from turning to almond butter.  You will need approximately 1/4 lb, or 4 ounces of almonds to make the cup of almond meal you will need for this recipe; grind in small batches and don't worry about a perfect texture - just get them as fine as you are able.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) room-temperature butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg, whole
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
Half a recipe apple butter (above)
1 tablespoon sugar
Mix your dry ingredients (flour through salt) and set aside. Whip the butter and sugar together with a mixer or in a food processor.  Add the whole egg, egg yolk, and half of the remaining egg white.  Slowly mix in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overwork the dough.  Put the dough in the refrigerator for about an hour.
After the dough has chilled, remove about 1/3-1/2 of it, and form it into a log; put the log back in the refrigerator (or freezer.)

Butter a large (9 inch or larger; there's room for a bit of flexibility) springform pan or tart pan, and, using slightly wet hands, press the remaining dough into the bottom with your fingers (this is a great job for kids.) 

Create a slightly raised edge around the outside of your pie shell using the long side of your index finger. 

Fill the center area with the apple butter so that there is an even layer about 1/4" thick. 

Create a top shell for your tart by cutting slices of the refrigerated dough log and layering them in a spiral starting on the outer edge of your tart: don't worry about making this perfect, they rise a bit, just try to cover the filling - you can leave a space in the middle to show off your filling if you like (or if you, like me, run out of dough.) 

Beat the remaining egg white with a tablespoon of water, and thoroughly coat the top of the tart using your pastry brush.  Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the tart in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Cool completely before removing from the pan; cut into 12 pieces (cut each quarter in 3.) Enjoy!

*note: as commercial apple butter is usually sweetened, I used the nutrition facts for applesauce, but doubled the amount to account for the reduction.

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