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.

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10 Comments on “The Art Of The Apple”

  1. Lucy V Says:

    It looks delectable. Very nice, Abra.

  2. katherine wienen-van den brink Says:

    Hello Abra,
    I just love this recepy since I love everything that is made with renettes and I am going to try it overhere. We have Dutch renettes which are called “goudrenetten”. By the way last winter there was a small producteur on the saturday-morning market who comes from Le Vigan and he often had the renettes. He is at the far end of the Esplanade near the entrance of the boulodrome.

  3. Eden Says:

    there’s something almost salmon like about the end result. Do the reinettes de Vigan usually turn red/pink when cooked?

  4. Jeanne Says:

    These are the apples that Francois Payard speaks of when he gives the recipe for his father’s weekend apple cake. I’ve made that cake with New England apples and the cake is delicious, I can only imagine how wonderful it must be with those apples!

    Your terrine looks wonderful.

  5. Abra Bennett Says:

    Katherine – let us know how yours turns out!

    Eden – it’s really a deep caramelized brown, but I took the photo in the morning sun, which warmed it up a lot. There’s a lot of cinnamon, plus the butter is browned by the time it’s done, so I’m thinking that other apples would look much the same.

    Jeanne – can you share the Payard recipe with us? I love apple cake.

  6. Jeanne Says:

    Here’s the recipe from his book, Simpley Sensational Desserts:

    1/3 cup (60 gms) raisins (I like golden raisins personally, dark works here too)
    3 TBL (42 gms) dark rum
    1 scant cup (130 gms) all purpose flour
    3/4 tsp (3 gms) baking powder
    8 TBL (1 stick) (113 gms) butter, softened
    1 cup (115 gms) confectioners sugar
    3 large eggs
    2 apples, peeled and cored
    1/4 cup (60 gms) apricot glaze

    Boil some water in a small pot add rains, boil 1 min to plump them up; repeat. Drain them well the second time around and put them in a small bowl. Add the rum, stir.
    Sift flour and baking powder (I just whisk them together to mix)
    Beat the butter and confectioner’s sugar in a mixer with a paddle, on med speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the bowl, then mix in raisins and rum. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed til blended. Spoon half of the batter into a loaf pan that has been sprayed well, or buttered/paper/butter and dusted with flour.

    This is the part I’ve never really understood (because the picture in the book doesn’t look like what they describe) so I am typing it in verbatim:

    Cut one apple into 12 wedges and arrange t hem over the batter, down the center of the pan, so their sides touch and the domed side of each wedge is on top. Spoon the rest of the batter over and around trhe apples and smooth the top. Cut the other apple into 8 wedges and then cut each wedge in half crosswise. Arrange the wedges in a single row along each long side of the pan, pressing the center cut sides of the apples against the sides of the pan. There will be two rows of apple slices, with their points toward the center of the pan and exposed batter in the center. Gently push the apples into the batter, leaving the top of the apples exposed.

    Bake the cake at 325 for 60-65 mins (don’t be temped to use a higher temp, the cake gets too dark. He says his father used only la reine des reinettes for this cake, and when he couldn’t get them, he used apricot halves but never substituted a different apple type. He recommends using Rome or Fuji here in the US, and I’ve used both with great success. I really like this cake and hope you will like it too – especially since you can get the genuine apples!! it will keep a week in the fridge, but only 2 days if you use apricots.

  7. Jeanne Says:

    Forgot to mention that the size pan he recommends is 8.5×4.5×2.5. I’ve never had a problem with just spraying it well (as opposed to lining it with parchment).

    You use the apricot glaze at the end when the cake is still hot (it should cool for about 10-15 mins). I’ve used apricot jam, mixed to loosen it up, and maybe microwaved to thin it a bit.

    And there’s a typo in the first line of the recipe instructions; that should say raisins 🙂

  8. Abra Bennett Says:

    Thank you so much, Jeanne! That looks really interesting and I can’t wait to try it. The apple-placing instructions seem quite clear – in what way do they differ from the picture?

  9. Jeanne Says:

    The picture looks like it might be upside down (the cresent shape cut apples look like they are at the bottom, when they should be at the sides based on the way they cut the slice). Along the bottom part of the picture, you see triangles of apple and I was expecting them to be at the sides. But no matter how they are arranged, the cake is delicious so I ignore the photo. I also like this better with golden raisins, if you can get them.

  10. That’s indeed right up my alley, Abra!!!

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