I have a hard time resisting the (flawed) logic that “if some is good, more is better,” so it’s a mark of my growth as a recipe developer that I can recognize when a recipe is just right and stop myself from adding unnecessary ingredients or steps. Editing oneself is hard, but this dead-simple free-form apple tart is direct evidence of how important it is. Comprising no more than a layer of pastry, a layer of bread crumbs (to absorb some of the appley juices), thinly sliced apples, and cream and sugar, it’s incredible.
- PREHEAT THE OVEN AND PREPARE THE PAN: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and set aside.
- MAKE THE VANILLA SUGAR: In a small bowl, combine the demerara sugar, vanilla seeds, and a pinch of salt and massage the mixture with your fingertips until it’s fragrant and the vanilla seeds are evenly distributed (if using vanilla extract, skip to the next step). Set the vanilla sugar aside.
- ROLL OUT THE DOUGH: Let the dough sit at room temperature for a minute or two to soften slightly, then unwrap it and place on a lightly floured surface. Use a rolling pin to beat the dough all across the surface to make it more pliable. Dust more flour on top and underneath the dough, then roll it out, dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, into a 13-inch round (for step-by-step visuals, see Rolling Out Chilled Pastry Dough, page 332). Use a paring knife or wheel cutter to cut around the pastry and trim away the ragged edge to make a clean 12-inch round.
- ASSEMBLE: Transfer the pastry round to the prepared sheet pan, then fold a ½-inch-wide border of pastry inward toward the center to form a raised edge all the way around, pressing firmly so it stays in place. Prick the surface of the pastry in several places with the tines of a fork, then spread the bread crumbs in an even layer inside the border. Arrange the apple slices on top, tightly overlapping them in any pattern you like. If using vanilla extract, combine it with the cream in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of cream over the border of pastry, then drizzle the remaining cream evenly over the apples. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar (or, if using vanilla extract, just the demerara sugar and salt) across the surface of the tart, covering both the apples and the border. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill until the pastry is firm, 10 to 15 minutes.
- BAKE AND GLAZE THE GALETTE: Bake the tart until the pastry border is deep golden brown and the edges of the apples are golden, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool. In a small saucepan, warm the jam over low heat, stirring occasionally with a heatproof flexible spatula, until it’s fluid. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, catching the liquid in a small bowl (you can scrape the strained solids back into the jam jar, if you wish). While the tart is still warm, brush the strained jam over the apples. Serve the tart warm or at room temperature.
- COMBINE THE DRY INGREDIENTS: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.
- ADD THE BUTTER AND ICE WATER: Prepare about 1 cup (8 oz / 227g) of ice water and set it aside. Add the butter to the bowl with the dry ingredients and toss, separating the pieces and coating them in the flour mixture. Use your fingertips to quickly break and smash the pieces of butter into smaller bits (it’s okay if some of the butter is left in large pieces; you’ll break it up more in the next step). Make a well in the center of the bowl and add 2⁄3 cup (5.6 oz / 158g) of the ice water. Toss with a fork to distribute the water until you have a clumpy mixture with lots of dry spots [A].
- WORK THE MIXTURE DIRECTLY ON THE SURFACE: Tip the contents of the bowl out onto a clean work surface [B]. Use the straight edge of a bench or bowl scraper to chop up the mixture directly on the surface, breaking up the clumps and pieces of butter and periodically using the scraper to toss and push the mixture back into a pile. Continue to chop and toss the mixture until it’s broken down into small, uniform pieces with very few floury spots and the butter pieces are no larger than a pea [C, D]. This process helps you bring the dough together without working it excessively, increasing tenderness.
- BRING THE DOUGH TOGETHER: Push the mixture into a pile and squeeze it with your hands all over so it holds together in large pieces [D]. Depending on the butter and flour you're using, the entire mixture might hold together without any dry spots—if that’s the case, skip to the next step. If you still have some floury areas, move any large pieces to one side, leaving the dry bits in the pile. Drizzle ½ tablespoon of ice water over the floury area, then use the bench scraper in the same chopping motion to evenly distribute the water [E]. Squeeze to bring it together, moving the pieces to the side, then repeat with more ice water as needed until no dry flour remains on the surface.