Friday, October 23, 2009

Apple Galette with Cinnamon-Flavored Whipped Cream

The decision to bake this classic apple galette began with the making of a flourless chocolate cake and caramel sauce. An unlikely transition, perhaps, but a learning experience nonetheless.

You see I offered to bring dessert to a dinner for eleven women. Me...the potato-cheese-bread girl! And not just any dinner, a birthday dinner for a beautiful, elegant, and wonderfully talented friend...who would be surrounded by a swarm of other beautiful, elegant, and wonderfully talented women...all of whom can cook and bake with the best of them. No pressure.

So, why didn't I offer to bring a salad? Well...I truly think that while I may not crave sweets, I really enjoy the creative precision of baking and the beauty of the final result. It's kind of like edible art. However, unlike savory recipes where I can more or less taste the final product by just reading the ingredients, I can't so much with sweets. If it has chocolate in it, and eggs, and butter, and sugar...a fairly predictable cast...then it must be good. Right? Wrong! Case in point: the recipe for Chocolate Flourless Cake with Caramel Sauce that I had so diligently clipped, filed and saved in "the binder." Conclusion: what you get is not necessarily what you might have expected. This experience proved what I already knew...desserts don't offer you the benefit of adding a bit more of this or that to balance their flavor or consistency. For me, cooking is fluid and amenable. Baking, though enjoyable, really isn't. Once baked, desserts are kind of a done deal.

I have to preface my decision to go with an untested recipe by saying that this particular chocolate cake was sampled by a particular reader, at a particular restaurant, and touted as "unbelievable." And...a particular mag had secured the recipe from a particular pastry chef and published it. So I figured it had to be particularly good (it certainly sounded good). 

Well...the batter tasted great and the cake came out of the oven looking sooo beautiful (exactly how I had hoped it would). And the caramel sauce was perfection. So I scrapped my initial plan of making this a "trial" cake and confidently placed it and the sauce in the fridge for the party the next day. Then, around 8 o'clock that evening, it hit me...I think I should taste the cake. Without hesitation, I pulled it and the sauce from the fridge, grabbed a plate and a fork, and dug a pile of mushy blandness. It was chocolaty, and it did have the consistency of what you might expect from a flourless cake, but it just tasted like an under-baked cake. Disappointed but not completely dejected, I resolved to consider Plan B the next morning.

After a quick email to another friend I learned that the birthday girl might actually prefer something more like a pie...maybe apple...and I immediately remembered this galette. I have made it several times and have always loved it...apples, sugar, lemon, apricot, what's not to love!Though simple to make, it's elegant (like the birthday girl) and beautiful (also like the birthday girl). It has a buttery-crisp, flakey-thin crust that is brushed with apricot jam and then covered with ever-so-thin slices of delicious apple that have been flavored and sweetened with lemon and sugar, and delicately arranged in tiers of concentric circles.

Topped with a dollop of fresh, cinnamon-flavored whipped cream, it was a worthy little birthday offering following a rather impressive and delicious meal. All simple, straightforward ingredients, not unlike those in many desserts...only these come together exactly as they should. Is it unbelievable? Hmm...that can be a misleading word. Let's just say it IS particularly good!

Apple Galette with Cinnamon-Flavored Whipped Cream
serves 8 to 10 (we stretched it to 12...but 8 is optimal)
recipe recommends: parchment paper and unrimmed baking sheet

For crust:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 - 4 tablespoons ice water

For fruit topping:
1-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 4 to 5 large apples), peeled, cored and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons apricot jam (or preserves), divided
1 tablespoon water
milk (just for basting crust)

Crust assembly:
1. Blend flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter and blend by pulsing machine on and off until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and blend. Add additional ice water until dough begins to clump together. (Dough is ready when it clumps but still retains a coarse, loose presence.) Place dough on a non-stick surface and gather into a disk, kneading lightly until it holds shape.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and place in fridge to chill for at least 1 hour.

2. Roll dough between sheets of parchment paper to a 1/8-inch thick round that is approximately 14 inches in diameter. I put two overlapping sheets on the bottom to allow for the 14-inch diameter. As you roll, lift and move the top piece of parchment as needed to ease the process (don't turn it over though as it will get a little buttery from the dough...just makes it an easier, cleaner effort to keep the buttery side down to the dough. Transfer dough, along with bottom parchment sheets, to a large, unrimmed baking sheet. Chill for 15 minutes.

Fruit topping assembly:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine apple slices, 2 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice and zest in a medium bowl. Toss lightly to blend.

2. Remove chilled dough from fridge and spread 1/4 cup apricot preserves over surface, leaving about a 1-1/2 inch border on outside perimeter. Beginning from outer edge (just inside 1-1/2 border), arrange apple slices in concentric circles atop apricot spread, overlapping slightly.

Using the bottom sheets of parchment as an aid, fold the outer edge of dough up toward apples to create a rimmed crust. I kind of roll it a bit to hide the rough edges and then push it a bit up over the edge of the outside tier of apples. Then pinch dough to form a nice edge and correct any cracks.

3. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle entire galette (crust and fruit) with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden. Check galette to ensure that crust is browning well...protect with foil if necessary. Remove from oven. Carefully slide a thin knife around outer edges to loosing galette from parchment. Let stand on parchment for about 10 minutes to cool. 

4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons apricot preserves and 1 tablespoon water in a small pot over medium heat, until just melted. Using a pastry brush, lightly dab galette with apricot glaze (very carefully so as not to MOVE apple slices out of position). You don't want to add too much liquid to apple surface, just lightly dab to glaze a bit. Using parchment as an aid, carefully transfer galette to your serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of cinnamon-flavored whipped cream, if desired.

Cinnamon-Flavored Whipped Cream
serves 6 (approximately)
While I tend to make this in an add-as-you-go fashion, here are approximate measurements for about 2 cups of cream topping.

1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar, to taste
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (more if desired)

1. Beginning beating cream on low to medium speed for 30 seconds or so (prevents splashing!) before increasing speed to high. Just before soft peaks begin to form, add sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Taste and adjust flavor, as desired. Continue whipping until soft peaks form. Serve immediately or place in fridge to chill. 

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