Welcoming Fall With An Apple Tart



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Get the recipe for Apple Cranberry Frangipane Tart. (NPR)
Get the recipe for Apple Cranberry Frangipane Tart. (NPR)

This time of year, supermarket shelves are overflowing with apples -- and not much else.

But if you're mourning the loss of summer fruit, Top Chef finalist Carla Hall has the perfect dessert to take your mind off your troubles: Apple Cranberry Frangipane Tart. It may sound complicated, but Hall promises it's simple, even the exotic-sounding frangipane. "All it is is almonds and sugar and butter, oh my!"

An apple tart demands the best possible apples, so Hall picks through the bounty on display, thumping each one to test its ripeness. She settles on a mix of sweet and tart apples, and back in her kitchen, she sets her favorite sous-chef, host Guy Raz, to chopping.

This tart will have three parts: a crisp, cookie-like crust that adds eggs and cream to the usual pie crust recipe, a base of the sweetened almond paste called frangipane, and a top layer of apples, chopped and sauteed with cranberries, sugar and spices. While Raz is on apple duty, Hall starts the frangipane and the crust, most of which can be made in a food processor.

The key to the crust, Hall says, is to listen for the thumping, rattling sound that means it's coming together in the food processor.

"You know why I love radio?" she says. "Because this is the thing I want to tell people, use all of your senses to cook with, and listen for it. Don't just use your eyes!"

She rolls out the crust to a perfect thinness, and presses it carefully into a tart pan. These crusts have to be blind-baked (baked without the filling), so they are weighted down with old beans or pie weights and popped into the oven for a few minutes.

Then you add the frangipane and the apples and return the crusts to the oven.  They're done when everything looks golden brown and the frangipane has puffed up luxuriously around the apples. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream right in the middle, and you've got a perfect fall dessert.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

(Soundbite of song, "Barbra Streisand")

RAZ: In a few minutes, why the raving club kids in Europe are once again dancing to Barbra Streisand, or something like that.

Unidentified Man: Barbra Streisand.

RAZ: But first, I know this program airs before dinnertime for most of us, so forgive me for this next segment, because we're skipping right to dessert. And to do that, we headed to Safeway to meet up with our old friend and favorite Top Chef, Carla Hall.

Ms. CARLA HALL (Chef): So today we're going to make an apple cranberry frangipane tart.

RAZ: That sounds fancy.

Ms. HALL: It - well, it sounds fancier than it is, actually.

RAZ: Is there an English word for it?

Ms. HALL: Apple cranberry almond tart.

RAZ: Perfect.

Apple frangipane tart - that is what you can do right now with the mountains of apples you'll find in the supermarket. And this is the time of year, so Carla shows me how to pick the good ones.

(Soundbite of thumping)

Ms. HALL: That sounds good. Let's thump it like a watermelon.

RAZ: Yeah. Let me thump one of those.

Ms. HALL: Okay. Yeah, okay.

RAZ: So armed with butter, flour, apples, more butter, sugar, eggs, butter and some other stuff, we head back to Carla's kitchen.

Ms. HALL: So we've got, for our crust, it's basically a shortbread crust. So, it's flour, butter - you know that - a little bit of sugar.

RAZ: Right.

Ms. HALL: But in this crust, there's egg and a little bit of cream and vanilla.

RAZ: Okay.

Ms. HALL: Okay? Then in the frangipane filling, we have almonds, butter, egg and a little bit of flour, a little salt.

RAZ: And some sugar.

Ms. HALL: And some sugar, yes, and some sugar. So that's the filling. And then we have the fruit. And it's basically sweetened apples, and we're going to cook those first. And those are the three parts of the pie. So what I'm going to have you do is start cutting some apples.

RAZ: Okay.

Ms. HALL: And I have a particular way that I like to do my apples. And of course, you know, I'll share that with you.

RAZ: And Carla's method is pretty simple. Basically, you need to chop the apples into half-inch cubes, so she hands me the knife.

Ms. HALL: Because you like to chop and all that stuff.

(Soundbite of chopping)

RAZ: I'm eating these apples as I'm cutting them.

Ms. HALL: That's what - you have to do that. That's part of the...

RAZ: So good.

Ms. HALL: ...that's like drinking the wine while you're cooking.

RAZ: Yeah, while you're cooking, yeah.

Ms. HALL: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Now, this whole recipe is at npr.org, so don't worry if you missed anything so far. Anyway, as I chop the apples, Carla gets working on the crust, which is a little like shortbread - flour, sugar, eggs, cream, butter, salt -all into the food processor, and you pulse until it makes a specific sound. You want to listen for a clumping, rattling noise.

(Soundbite of food processor)

Ms. HALL: You know why I love radio? Because this is the thing that I want to tell people. I say use all of your senses to cook with and listen for it. Don't just use your eyes. And they have to listen for it here.

(Soundbite of food processor)

RAZ: And you know it's ready.

Ms. HALL: You know it's ready. So what I'm going to have you do is get a pan on. You're going to saute those apples. Let's see, what do we have here?

(Soundbite of sizzling)

RAZ: Apples in.

Ms. HALL: Nice.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

Ms. HALL: If we hear something, we're cooking.

RAZ: I saute the apples in a pan with some oil and butter and sugar until they're crisp-tender. Meantime, Carla gets working on the almond paste. Once again, everything into the food processor.

Ms. HALL: All right. So we are going to do four ounces or a cup of almonds. And honestly, I love almonds so I'm being very generous. I feel like I'm like Paula Deen with the butter but I'm doing almonds.

(Soundbite of food processor)

RAZ: She adds some dried cranberries, ginger, egg whites and sugar as well and then she spoons a layer of the paste onto the bottom of the pie crust. She piles apples on top, and into the oven it goes for 20 minutes or so.

Ms. HALL: So let's take the tart out of the oven.

RAZ: Ooh, that's nice.

Ms. HALL: And you can see how the apples have browned and the frangipane is kind of puffy and getting brown and the crust is really brown.

RAZ: We got to try it.

Ms. HALL: So let's dig in.

RAZ: Okay.

Ms. HALL: Mmm.

RAZ: It's perfect. This is a perfect dessert. It's so good.

Ms. HALL: Mmm.

RAZ: Thanks to "Top Chef" finalist Carla Hall for her apple cranberry frangipane tart. Next month, Carla returns to TV as a "Top Chef" all-star. You can find her tart recipe and some photos at our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.