Smile Politely

Apples: unburied

While standing in line to buy foccacia for turkey sandwiches from Pekara at the local indoor farmers market on Saturday, I struck up a conversation with Hiroko. Originally from Japan, Hiroko told me she is horrified at the amount of sugar in American food, and baked goods in particular. “American sweets are simply too sweet,” she said.

And while you can say that it is a matter of personal preference that an American tea cookie is far sweeter than what would be served with Japanese tea, we have far surpassed the sweetness of what our English forebears serve with tea, as well. Pekara owner Ruzica Cuk, who emigrated to the U.S. from Serbia, told me that the first thing she does when she adapts a recipe for her bakery is to cut the sugar.

According to Extension home economists, you can often reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by a third. Nowhere is the abundance of sugar in our food more apparent than in the quintessential American dessert, apple pie.

Picked ripe, most apples are naturally sweet. However, the classic apple pie recipe most of us grew up with from Better Homes and Gardens includes a half a cup of sugar, as well as generous amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg. We are so used to burying apples under sugar and spices that manufacturers sell cinnamon smelling candles with the label “apple pie” scent.

Meanwhile, a classic French-style apple tart consists of pastry, apples, a pinch of sugar, butter, and the barest glaze of diluted jam to keep it from drying out. It tastes like, well, like apples — just apples.

So if you are looking for something a little sweet, but not too sweet, this is the season for making apple tarts before the last of the local apples are gone. Apple tarts look more difficult than they are. This one takes just 4 apples to create a double layer of fruit. You can use a tart pan with a removable bottom, or create a rustic version by rolling out the pastry to about 12″, arranging the apples and folding the edges over the outer apples.

French Apple Tart

  • 1 pastry for a single crust pie (
  • 1 1 /2 pounds / about 4 thinly sliced apples (firm golden delicious apples work well, or use a combination of sweeter and tarter apples)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T butter cut into small pieces
  • 2 T of apricot jam or orange marmalade diluted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out dough, place in pan or on baking sheet, and chill. Peel and core apples. Cut in half and then into thin slices horizontally. Arrange apples in concentric circles with outer edges up or by lying flat as pictured above. If laying flat, use two layers of apples. Sprinkle with sugar. Dot with butter. Bake for 45 minutes until crust is golden and apples start to brown on edges. When tart is done, place it on a cooling rack. Warm jam with an equal amount or slightly more water in a small saucepan or in microwave to make a glaze. Brush apples with glaze to seal them and keep them from drying out.


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