Sunday, 3 November 2013

Autumn Apples and Foodie Fun on the Farm

Last Sunday, the composite aroma from light dustings of cinnamon mingling with warm, buttery caramel and natural sugars from the interplay of cooked down Melrose, Rome, and Suncrisp apples filled my kitchen as I took out my first attempt at tarte tain out of the oven. A few weeks prior, in the midst of midterms, I joined some of my anthro friends at Lynd Fruit Farm (Pataskala, OH) to pick apples, get through a superhero-themed maize maze, and select a pumpkin for last Saturday's pumpkin carving party hosted by Erin and Tim. (Unfortunately, the original pumpkin I picked didn't make it to the party.) With about 12 pounds of apples, a few more than I knew what to do with, I settled on trying my hand at creating my own rendition of the aforementioned "accidental" [1,2] dessert for Bluescreek Farm Meat's ox roast and potluck on their Marysville farm.

The concept of making a tarte tatin seemed simple enough: make a caramel sauce, arrange the peeled and sliced apples, top with pastry dough, bake, and turn it over and onto the serving dish. Just to be sure though, I looked up quite a few recipes as I naturally do and went through conversions (between French and English, and metric and American standard) and ingredient comparisons to come up with the following recipe which turned out beautifully. The first step, if you don't already have pastry dough milling about, is to make the dough. And with a time crunch ahead of me, I assembled the ingredients for a pâte brisée.

Referring to these recipes [1,2,3] as my guides, I began with sifting into my standing mixer's bowl 2 c all-purpose flour, 3 tsp granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt.

On setting four, I combined the dry ingredients and added to the lot 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter which I had previously cubed into smaller pieces. The consistency should turn out to be reminiscent of wet sand. To that, I added an egg yolk, and slowly added about 1/2 c ice-cold water (or maybe a little less; just enough to bring the dough together). Once clumped into more or less a single mass, I formed it into something of a disc, plastic-wrapped it, and got this into the refrigerator to chillax for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, I drew inspiration from these recipes [1,2,3] and put together my caramel sauce. Into an oven-safe skillet, I added a cup of granulated sugar and about 1/4 c water and got that to boil, stirring only when the sugar started to crystallise (as seen above). Usually you never want to mess with boiling sugar otherwise you get that hardened crystal effect, but this time around, I found that whisking--plus the fact there'll be added juices from the apples to soften the sugar--was helpful in breaking everything up.

Compared to other recipes, where the sugar is melting in a smaller pot for instance, the sugar will caramelise rather quickly because there's not much of a thickness to it. So, be ever-vigilant! As soon as the great majority of it turned brown, I shut off the heat (lest I burned it) and stirred in 1/2 stick unsalted butter. The result is a hot amber concoction of that which is good in the world. I'll note here that you may notice a few chunks of sugar; these are the tough, crystallised which you can remove at this point. At the same time, I found that any chunks are practically non-existent by the time the tarte tatin has finished baking.

With the skillet moved to an off burner, I next turned my attention to the apples. (As luck would have it, and according to this handy chart, the three apples I had appear to be great apples for baking.) After peeling three each of the Melrose, Rome, and Suncrisp, I decided to cut them into slices. Depending on your baking dish/skillet, or even your own aesthetic sense, you may choose to just cut the apples in half, or if they're small enough, just nestled side by side. (Also, be sure to adjust the number of apples to the size of the dish; I found that nine was half an apple or more than I actually needed.) In the end, I went with time as the motivating factor, i.e., the smaller the pieces the quicker they'd cook. Be careful not to make the slices to thin (or at least adjust your cooking time), or else you'll get mushy apples. And you definitely want a nuanced al dente-ness to the apples.

Once everything was all sliced, I got my oven preheating to 350°F and assembled the tarte tatin. If, at this point, your caramel has hardened, get it back onto the stove at low heat to loosen it up. Arrange the apples in even layers, dusting each layer with ground cinnamon. As you build the layers, aim to cover any sight of caramel. Again, I ended up using most of my apple slices, filling up my skillet completely.

By this point, the tart crust should be more than ready to roll out. Using a lid that was the approximate size of my skillet, I cut out a large circle (more or less) out of the dough.

The dough round was then placed over the apples. I followed this up by poking some fork holes into the dough to help the steam escape. This lot then went into my preheated oven to bake for about 45 minutes, and then finished off under the broiler for a minute to help the crust brown.

In the ideal world, you should let the tarte tatin rest before turning it over onto your serving dish. Mine only had about 10 minutes to rest, so the sauce of apple juices and thinned out caramel was still rather runny. Whatever the state of affairs was, this thing had to be turned over. A few things to keep in mind, especially if you're in a bit of a rush: 1) Trust that the apples will stick together in one mass, along with the tart base. 2) Make sure your serving dish is larger than the baking dish you baked everything in. 3) The pan and everything in it is hot, so make sure to have and use the appropriate oven mitts/towels. 4) Turn everything away from you. Now, if  you do have some time to let everything rest, and you find it difficult to get the apples out because the sauce has gotten too hard, get this onto the stove on low heat to loosen up the caramel. Thankfully, most everything worked out for me. Quite a bit of the sauce did get lost in the process, and the apples ended up clumping to one side, but moving quickly, that could all be repaired without losing the integrity of the tarte tatin's shape and overall appeal.

And so, with my tarte tatin now complete, I quickly tin foiled it lightly and headed over to Bluescreek with Zach and Lena.

If you know anything about Columbus's great growing and grassroots-favoured food scene, I would venture a fair share of the sustainable meats on restaurant menus most likely has Bluescreek sitting right next to it. With that in mind, it was a special privilege and honour to visit a staple of central Ohio. Also, I need to note that our late afternoon visit to the farm was picturesque and the weather was perfect for this outdoor gathering.

Moreover, it was just a delicious day of celebrating and enjoying fellowship and food, the conviviality and confluence of central Ohio's culinary talents exemplified in the shared space.

From cases of Snowville Creamery goodies (and who could forget the giant bowl filled with lemon ginger yogurt?!) that Joy brought to the part to Zach and Lena's bell pepper stir fry to Tim's butchery and ox roasting talents (the same Tim, by the way, who helped us out with the Slow Food Columbus Red Wattle Hog Roast) to Michelle's (of Patisserie Lallier) amazing pâte de fruit made with apple cider to the gorgeous bowl of David's slow cooked deer chili to Bear's homemade bread, this was certainly an extended meal to remember.

Oh, and alongside the wonderful music that accompanied the event, I certainly need to share photos of the animals raised on the farm (including the 10-day-old ewe pictured above), all of which seemed ready for their close-ups. Well, most of them anyway.

With gratitude for everyone who organised, hosted, and contributed to last weekend's ox roast and potluck, especially to Cheryl and David, I'll sign off here for now. Before that though, a few more notes: Bluescreek Farm Meats can be found in Columbus's North Market; for more information, click here. Also, and along with other food locales such as Da Levee and Mikey's Late Night Slice (two of my Columbus favourite spots), Bluescreek Farm Meats is looking for support in being considered for one of Chase's Mission Main Street grants. Click on the aforementioned links and vote today on their respective pages! Voting ends in November 15th. Finally, to check out my complete album from my visit to Bluescreek, click here.

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