My husband, Al, and I spent three weeks in Paris in the summer of 2015. Frankly I wasn’t having a great time during the first few days. We’d just had two wonderful weeks in beautiful Alsace. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Colmar just yet. When we arrived in Paris, it was very hot. It was, as I expected, over-flowing with tourists. Somehow something just didn’t seem right. How could they be right when the city was still reeling from the shock of the Charlie Hebdo massacre? There was an overhanging sense of what the French would call malaise. The highly visible police presence didn’t help.
We’d just visited the Louvre. Thankfully we didn’t waste a single minute in the queue as I had the foresight to buy a Paris Pass and we entered the museum from the Carousel entrance. I probably would have gone bat shit crazy if I had to queue for a ticket by the Pyramids and then deal with the selfie-stick toting horde. I really wish they’d ban those things and those people.
Anyone would know that eating in restaurants around major tourist attractions is often not a good idea. Surprisingly, if you go just two or three blocks away, you will often find affordable, truly decent restaurants where local people eat. Admittedly, we were looking for a restaurant called Verjus but unfortunately, it was closed during our visit. We were disappointed so we kept walking around and as we were famished, we settled for a tiny, hole in the wall bistro with about five or ten tables. There was nothing physically remarkable about it other than it has a copper bar and Al said it has a Turkish toilet.
It was around 2 p.m. It was the only place that was still busy and had a lively atmosphere. The chef was cooking in an unbelievably small kitchen. There were three main courses and there were only two desserts on the menu written on a black board in chalk. The owners were drinking the same wine they were serving as they waited at the tables. The clientele looked like regulars because they and the owners referred to each other by names and kissed each other on the cheeks as they came in or as they left. The conversations were lively and convivial. They seemed unconcerned judging by how often and how generously they poured the wine. When we walked in, it felt like we crashed a private party. To this day, I still can’t believe a place like that still exists just blocks from the Louvre.
Al was smart to order the sole meunier. I had the audacity to order my steak frites à point (North American medium/French well-done). Everyone else were eating theirs either bleu (just singed on the outside, bloody on the inside) or sagnant (North American rare). I doubt I’ll ever forget the owner’s icy glare and the slight but obvious sarcasm as he called my order to the chef who was a mere 3 feet away from our table. He warmed up to me eventually as I switched to French and tried my best to keep up with the conversation. I always feel intimidated speaking my bad French to a Parisian but he must have liked it because I even received free generous refills of the house wine, a light chilled rose, just perfect for a scorching hot Parisian afternoon.
The food was great. The fish was very fresh and cooked just right. My steak was tender and it was cooked a perfect medium rare. I finished my meal with a slice of apple tart and a strong cup of coffee. I’m not sure if it was homemade but it was good, good enough that I still think about it now and then.
This recipe is not from the bistro, it’s largely based on the amazing Stephanie Jaworksi of Joy of Baking’s YouTube tutorial. This recipe is very involved. Don’t do this if you don’t have a lot of time. It took me about 4 hours partly because I had to wait till the ingredients reached room temperature, I had to make my own apple sauce and then I had to make the crust which is probably the most difficult step in this recipe, in addition to all the other steps. The result was worth it though.
French Apple Tart (This recipe makes one 11 inch tart)
Ingredients for the Sweet Pastry Crust:
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (113 grams) salted butter at room temperature
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
Apricot Glaze Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) (150 grams) apricot preserves
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, orange juice or rum
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Apple Filling Ingredients:
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened homemade applesauce (I boiled 6 peeled and sliced Gala apples in ¼ cup of sugar-free apple juice until they are soft then I mashed them with a fork)
- 5 large Granny Smith apples
- 1 tablespoon or more of butter cut in small pieces
- 1 tablespoon granulated brown sugar (adjust depending on the sweetness of your apples)
- small pinch of ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar for dusting
Sweet Pastry Crust:
- Place the butter and sugar in the electric mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg just until it’s well mixed.
- Add flour and mix just until all the liquid is absorbed and a soft dough is formed, don’t overdo it or the gluten will be activated and you’ll end up with a tough crust.
- Gently flatten the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into about a 1/4-inch thick and 13-inch circle. Move it around while you’re rolling it so it doesn’t stick. I made mine too thin. I would have liked a bit more crust.
- Very lightly wrap the pastry around your rolling pin to lift it off the counter, brush off any excess flour as you wrap. Transfer on to your tart pan.
- Gently press the pastry onto the bottom and the sides of the pan.
- Trim the edges, but leave a 1/2-inch overhang in case it shrinks like mine did during baking.
- Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork to prevent it from puffing up as it bakes. Cover and refrigerate for about half an hour to chill.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line the chilled unbaked pastry shell with parchment paper or foil. Fill the tart pan with pie weights about 1.5 cups of uncooked rice, or uncooked beans, making sure the weights are evenly distributed over the entire surface.
- Bake the pastry for about 25 – 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and remove the parchment paper and weights.
- Microwave or warm up the apricot preserves for about 30 seconds to 1 minute until it’s hot.
- Add the vanilla and the lemon juice or orange juice or rum. Stir well.
- Brush the glaze over the bottom and sides of the pastry shell and let it cool.
For the Apple Tart:
- Spread the applesauce evenly into the cooled pre-baked tart shell.
- Peel, core, and cut the apples into thin slices.
- Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles over the applesauce to form a rosette.
- Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and sprinkle evenly on top of the apple slices.
- Dot with butter for added flavour.
- Line the sides of the crust with tin foil to prevent the crust from burning.
- Place the tart pan on a larger baking sheet and bake the tart for 40 – 50 minutes at 375 F. Cook until the apples are tender. Don’t burn it like I did.
- To finish, warm up the apricot jam and brush the top of the tart. Let it cool completely then dust with icing sugar just before slicing.
- Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.