The Art Of The Apple
My favorite French cooking apples are the reine de reinettes, a queen of apples if ever there was one. It’s an old European apple, one that doesn’t have a real equivalent among its youthful American cousins. It’s too soft to eat raw, hovers between sweet and slightly tart, and is meltingly luscious when cooked. A tasty relative? The reinettes de Vigan. I hadn’t seen any Viganais apples here yet this year, so over the weekend when we were up in Le Vigan and I saw a little organic grocery selling them, I bought a sackful.
Aren’t they beautiful? To my eye they look like the golden apples of Atalanta must have looked, before transnational shipping practices and standards of conformity for beauty and size dictated the look of our fruit bowl. Before I even had time to think about what to do with them, the daily paper’s recipe appeared before my eyes.
I’ve already written here about the daily recipe offerings to be found in the Midi Libre, but this recipe looked more intriguing than most. A sort of apple mosaic with cinnamon, a layered baked applesauce, a chilled flourless apple cake, what? It was difficult to visualize the results by reading the recipe, but it looked satisfyingly fussy to prepare, and containing only apples, cinnamon, sugar, and butter, it was bound to highlight my special fruit. It called for layering thinly sliced Royal Gala apples in a caramel-coated pan with cinnamon sugar and a little butter, then baking it for 3 hours, then chilling it overnight. However, I was bound and determined to use my reinettes de Vigan, in defiance of the instructions. It’s not my best characteristic, but sometimes I just don’t want to do what I’m told.
So I sliced up my apples, too thinly as it turns out. I made the caramel and coated the bottom of the pan; although the recipe called for coating the sides as well there wasn’t enough caramel, so in the recipe below I’ve doubled the caramel for you. I layered the apples as prettily as I could. The pan called for, a moule à cake, is like a bread pan, only narrower, use a silicone terrine mold if you have one. The hardest part turned out to be finding a weight that could sit on the pan in the oven. Cans were out, since the temperature would go over boiling. What to use for the weights?
I settled on dishes filled with lentils. I love these little dishes, originally used in the mid-1840’s to hold pigments in a pottery factory. I baked the terrine for three hours, during which time it went from filling a pan about 4″ deep to being only an inch and a half high, while the juices went, you guessed it, all over the oven rack. I chilled it overnight. This morning I unmolded it and had some for breakfast. Was it all worth it? Judge for yourself.
Is it gorgeous? Not really, although it is interesting to look at. I think slicing the apples thicker would better emphasize the mosaic effect, or perhaps using the Royal Gala apples the recipe calls for would have made a huge difference. But was it delicious? Yes, in an understated chilled apple compote way. In fairness, the recipe suggests serving it with crème anglaise, and I ate it with only a splash of fresh cream. It’s not life-changing, but it’s very good. It has the additional advantage of being gluten-free, for those who care about that. I’m going to try it again with a firmer apple, the Royal Galas, or maybe even Golden Delicious, which are highly prized here for making tarte tatin. It you make it and find an apple that looks as beautiful after being baked as it does beforehand, please tell us what you used. If yours is prettier than mine, send me a picture and I’ll post it here.
Chilled Apple Terrine
1.5 kilos/3.3 lbs apples, peeled, quartered, seeded, and sliced
170 gms/6 oz sugar, divided use
4 T water
1 tsp cinnamon
30 gms/1 oz butter, cut into tiny pieces
Place 100 gms/3.5 ounces of the sugar with the water in a small saucepan. Let simmer until you have a caramel of a deep amber color. Pour this caramel very carefully into your pan or mold and swirl to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. You won’t be able to cover it completely, but it’s all going to melt back down anyway, so don’t worry.
Preheat the oven to 130°C/265°F. Mix the remaining sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl. Make one beautiful layer of the sliced apples on top of the caramel. This will be the top when you turn out the dessert, so make it as pretty as possible. Sprinkle the layer with cinnamon sugar and little bits of butter. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the ingredients. I made 7 layers in all – just be sure to come out even with the apples, cinnamon sugar, and butter. Press the fruit down firmly in the pan, cover the top with parchment paper, and set oven-proof weights on top of the pan. Place the pan on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 3 hours.
Remove the pan from the oven, leaving the weights in place, and let cool for an hour. Remove weights and parchment and unmold the apple terrine onto a platter. Cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve, slice into thick slices and plate on a pool of with crème anglaise or fresh cream.