Apple Tartlets with Salted Caramel

Apple Tartlets with Salted Caramel

Serving individual desserts is a nice way to make the people around your table feel special. Especially after a big, family-style dinner when everyone is sharing large platters of food, a little something sweet plated just for one is a nice touch at the end of a meal.

I love the simplicity of this apple tartlet – it looks bakery-special, but it’s easy to put together. I like to use a high quality prepared all-butter puff pastry that I can buy frozen at Whole Foods, but use whatever pastry dough is your favorite.

The only real project with this recipe is making the caramel, which can be made days – and up to 2 weeks – ahead. It just needs to be warmed to a pourable consistency just before serving.  (You could (shhhhh) use a prepared caramel sauce to make life even easier)

But do try to use flaked salt such as Maldon – it adds a delicate crunch that doesn’t really happen with regular or coarse salt.

Apple Tartlets with Salted Caramel


    Caramel Sauce:
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • For tart:
  • 1 sheet all-butter frozen puff pastry dough, defrosted in the refrigerator (I like Dufour brand)
  • 2 apples, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • Flaked sea salt or fleur de sel, for sprinkling


  1. To make the caramel sauce, put the sugar in a 2 -3 quart heavy saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook the sugar until it melts into syrup, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon (NOT a metal spoon, which will get very hot and burn your hand).
  2. Once the sugar is completely melted, let it cook undisturbed until it’s amber-colored. Lower the heat and very slowly dribble the cream into the pan. The mixture will bubble up intensely so be careful. When the bubbling subsides, bring the caramel to a simmer, whisking until any hardened lumps melt back into the sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and butter until smooth. If you end up with a few stubborn pieces of hardened sugar, you can strain the sauce into a heatproof glass measuring cup.
  3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Roll the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to flatten slightly. Cut out 4 5-inch diameter circles with a pastry cutter or use the upside-down rim of a small bowl.
  5. Transfer the circles to an ungreased baking sheet. Cut the apples in half and remove the core. Slice each half crosswise into thin slices, keeping them together as you slice. Unfurl the slices onto each pastry circle, fanning them in a circular pattern to cover the dough. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon sugar.
  6. Bake 15 – 20 minutes, until the apples are tender and the edges of the tarts are puffed and golden.
  7. Reheat the caramel to pouring consistency if has cooled, and spoon some sauce over each tart. Sprinkle with a little flaked salt and serve warm.
  8. You’ll have more caramel sauce than you need for the tarts, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks to use in any way you like.

How to Juice a Pomegranate

Depending on who you listen to, getting the juice out of a pomegranate can be a messy, daunting task, right up there with hacking open stubborn coconuts with a machete. (see my friend Jaden’s very funny post about coconuts)

For example, in my go-to guide, The Produce Bible (a beautifully photographed encyclopedia of all things fruit, vegetable, herbal and nutty) author Leanne Kitchen first warns that pomegranate juice will permanently stain your clothing. She goes on to describe a juicing method, which involves peeling the sectioned fruit while submerging it in a bowl of water, collecting the seeds that float to the top and finally, chopping them in a food processor to collect the juice. Okaaay. Seems like a lot of work.

And the New Joy of Cooking (NJOC) not only includes the method above for seed extraction, but alternatively has you rolling the fruit around on the counter to release the juices, quartering them, picking out the seeds, wrapping them up in cheesecloth and then squeezing the bundle really hard over a bowl.

While I admit that I’m somewhat of a purist – I mean, most sensible people would just go out and buy a bottle of juice – I’m also lazy. I want fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, and I don’t want any trouble, hear? Why make things so complicated?

When I saw a recipe I needed to try – Pomegranate Sorbet in A Passion for Ice Cream, I decided to juice my own darn pomegranates. I also happened to have a lot of them on hand – Costco had flats at a bargain price.

My easy-peasy method is simply to cut them in halves (or into quarters if they are Really Big Pomegranates) and juice them in my electric juicer. No mess, not much fuss. There was a little bit of splashing, but I assure you, no clothing was harmed during the filming of this episode.

I found that 3 pomegranates gave me a generous 2 cups of juice, just what I needed to make the sorbet. The NJOC did say that crushing the seeds can release tannin, resulting in bitter juice; but I didn’t find that to be a problem – I must have a gentle juicer.

Pomegranates are in the last throes of their season now – but if you do find some in the market you can refrigerate them for up to a month, easily. Of course, you can make this gorgeous, jewel-colored sorbet with store bought juice, too. Just make sure you buy pure juice without added sugar and other kinds of juices.

Pomegranate Sorbet
adapted from A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups pure pomegranate juice (fresh or bottled)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk together the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Transfer syrup to a Pyrex or stainless steel bowl. Stir in the pomegranate juice, lemon juice and salt. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Scrape the sorbet into a freezer-safe container and freeze until scoopable, about 3 hours, before serving.

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Copyright (c) 2008 FamilyStyle Food

Vanilla Budino

Creamy. Rich. Custard.

Budino is the Italian word for “pudding”, although the vanilla pudding in the photo above doesn’t have any kind of Italian ingredients in it. It’s actually pots de crème – a Frenchified pudding – from a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. I just love the word budino!

One difference between American-style puddings and custards like pots de crème is that the former are thickened with cornstarch, while custards rely solely on the power of gently heated eggs. Custards have the edge on delicacy as far as I’m concerned, while still providing a satisfying, mouth-coating density.

I needed an excuse to use up some of my vanilla bean stash, which I ordered last month from Vanilla Saffron Imports.

If you do any baking at all, VSI is a great source for vanilla. While you can purchase your vanilla beans at the grocery store, chances are you’ll pay two to three bucks apiece for them, and they’ll be all dried up and twiggy. VSF’s beans are moist and aromatic, as if they’d just been plucked from the rain forest.

(Hint – They also carry saffron at discount prices, and it’s not the counterfeit stuff. Always look for saffron threads that are evenly dark red in color. If the package has a large percentage of yellow filaments, you’re probably paying for “filler” – actually the stamens of the crocus flower rather than the stigmas, which is the part you want)

When I worked as an assistant pastry chef in a fancy-pants restaurant, Tahitian was the vanilla of choice. Compared to other high-quality beans from Madagascar or Mexico, each of which has subtly different flavor profiles, Tahitian is vanilla with the volume turned up loud. It stands out like a Vegas showgirl in a funeral parlor – showy, plump and perfumed.

It’s a personal thing, though. I just really like how vanilla infused in a couple of cups of cream, egg yolks and sugar transforms simple ingredients into this sublime, sensual treat.

Vanilla Budino

Adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
6 large egg yolks

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a water bath by placing a deep baking pan ( I used two 8-inch square pans) on a larger, rimmed baking sheet – use two sheets if you have to. Arrange eight 6-ounce custard cups or other small ovenproof dishes in the pan(s).

Combine the cream, milk and 5 tablespoons of the sugar in a large saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the dull side of a small paring knife and add to the pan along with the pod. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, cover and allow to infuse for 1 hour. Reheat the cream mixture until warm.

Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Slowly add the warm cream mixture into the yolks, whisking. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a Pyrex measuring cup. Pour about 1/2 cup of the strained mixture into each of the custard cups.
Transfer the pan to the oven and add enough hot water to the baking pans to come halfway to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the cups. Cover with a sheet of foil and bake 45-55 minutes, or until centers are set, but still slightly jiggly, like gelatin.

Carefully remove the cups from the pan and place on a rack to cool. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours. It can be hard to wait that long, but warm custard isn’t as appealing.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food