Croustade aux Pommes and a New Year’s Resolution

We were watching the movie UP last week, an animated film where Mr. Frederickson, an older gent and recent widower, was attempting to fulfill his late wife’s dream of flying their house under an umbrella of thousands of helium balloons to Paradise Falls in South America.

During his trip, he and an enthusiastic stowaway, Russell, a Wilderness Explorer seventy years his junior, encounter many challenges and unexpected experiences. Once he arrives at his destination, Russell sets out on mission to save Kevin, a rare bird and her babies, leaving Mr. Frederickson, who feels he is at his final destination, behind. With Russell flying off across the sky on a leaf blower, Mr. Frederickson soon realizes that he is very alone and that the house on the top of the mountain next to the waterfall was not the true prize; the treasure was the adventure of the journey getting there.

With the balloons slowly deflating, Mr. Frederickson must make a choice to join Russell in his quest to save the birds by divesting the house of most of his cherished possessions, allowing the house to rise and fly again or to hang on to everything from his rich past and live a lonely life in paradise.

Suddenly he begins to shove and toss his belongings out the door and windows. Soon he has lightened his load and his house begins to rise. As his home begins to float up to the sky, his face is filled with a childlike glee as he rides off to his next adventure.

The only New Year’s resolution that Ric and I made this year was to lighten our load of material belongings by 60 percent. Realizing that all of our collective stuff is truly more of a burden than a blessing. I have objects that I have carted back and forth across the country more than once and clothes that haven’t seen the light of day for years, and for what purpose? Sentimental reasons? No. There are a number of items that truly do carry great meaning for me, which I will hold on to, but those things that I think I may need someday but that holds no current purpose or meaning, I intend to give away.

My son can move all of his belongings from one apartment to the next in New York City in one taxi ride or two subway trips! In many ways, I envy him and feel it would be incredibly liberating to be able to pick up and move so easily.

Ric and I are adventurers and vagabonds at heart and dragging around box loads of goods is a waste of time, space and money and hinders our wish for free spirited lifestyle, so when we saw this scene we looked to each other smiled and said, “See, it is so easy…just get rid of it”…and let the fun begin!

Years ago, when I had my gourmet shop on Fishers Island, my mother-in-law at the time, Anna, would make pies and cookies for me to sell at the store. I decided to sell the pies for fifteen dollars, which Anna thought outrageous. However, the minute I placed them on the counter customers scooped them up. By the slice, whole pies, special orders, Anna couldn’t bake them fast enough and we couldn’t keep them in stock.

Anna taught me how to make pies so we could keep up with the demand so now, whenever I bake a pie, I think of she and Julia Child, whose Mastering the Art of Cooking was instrumental in my learning how to make the ultimate pie crust. I have tweaked and changed the techniques and recipes to make them my own, but the fundamentals are the same.

There is something so comforting about the smell of apples and cinnamon baking. The butter, cinnamon, apples and sugar make for a delicious blend of aromas that could make any space feel like home.

Here is a version of the apple pie from the southwest region of France, called Croustade aux Pommes. With its freeform crust and just a dusting of powdered sugar it has just the right balance of sweet and tart flavors. Served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or a drizzle of heavy cream…ummm, divine

Croustade aux Pommes

For the pastry:
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup chilled water

For the pie:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (more or less depending on taste)
6-8 firm apples – peeled, cored and sliced (I like a mix of 4 Granny Smiths,  2 Fuji and 2 Honey Crisp)
Optional: a drizzle of honey (approximately a tablespoon or two)

To make the pie crust:
In a food processor, pulse together the butter, flour and salt until just barely blended. Then add the ice water a bit at a time, pulsing the processor a few times each time you add the water. Only add enough water for the dough to just hold together. It may appear a little lumpy, which is fine.

Remove the dough and form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper. Set in the refrigerator to relax and chill for 30 minutes or so (you can also freeze it at this point for future use).

Preparing the apples:
Mix the lemon juice, white sugar and brown sugar, honey, butter and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Transfer apples to a large, thick-bottomed covered pan or Dutch oven and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are just tender when poked with a fork, but still hold their shape – about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the apples from the pan leaving the liquid. Reduce the liquid by simmering it over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Once it becomes more like a syrup, add it back into the apple and cool completely.

Once apple mixture has cooled, add flour and toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Separate the pastry dough into 6 balls and roll into 8-inch circles. I use an upside-down glass to form the dough and then place it into a jumbo size muffin tin that I have lined with a 1″ x 6″ strip of parchment which gives me something to hold onto to lift the tarts out once they are baked.

Press the dough into the tins and then fill with the apples pressing them down so there is as little airspace as possible. Fold over the pastry dough onto to apples.

Bake 30-40 minutes at 425 degrees. Cover the top loosely with foil if the top begins to brown too much.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or as I do, with just a drizzle of heavy cream.

Please share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you!

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