Despite being many years into adulthood I still associate the turning leaves and fresh mornings of September with new starts. January might be the first month of our calendar year but September always puts me in mind of going back to school. I think of polished shoes, new pencils and crisp exercise books. Relishing the persistent change of the seasons is part of the joy of living in this part of the world; with a spectrum of skies and landscapes to mark the quiet marching of time.
The red berry season of summer is long over, replaced with the dark, treacly fruits of autumn. Orchard fruits fall in gluts; apples, pears and plums. The hedges are thick with blackberries, ripe and thorny for stained-fingered picking. Fresh hazelnuts can be found with a keen eye; creamy and mild in contrast to their packaged counterparts. Now is, traditionally, the time for bottling, pickling and preserving the late-summer harvest. With any luck my Grandmother will be busy making pots of spicy pear chutney for the festive table and my parents will be making sloe gin from their little haven in the New Forest.
I find this an exciting time of year as the summer heat dies down and I can step back into my kitchen with renewed vigour. Shorter days and greyer skies render comfort food back on the table. In my home, the kettle boils more frequently as hot cups of tea are welcomed, once again, into the fold. I like to bake with the smoky tones of maple syrup and toasted pecan nuts; scattered and drizzled over tenderly-stewed fruits and crumbles. September is a time for oats and apples and wholesome fayre; energy-giving breakfasts for long days and new projects. I like to start baking bread again, as a vehicle for wedges of sharp cheddar and thick sweeps of salted butter.
These apple tarts encompass autumn flavours in their entirety. Sweet shortcrust is wrapped haphazardly around a pile of cinnamon-spiced apples and drizzled generously with warm spoonful’s of maple-blackberry sauce. The effect is golden with deep purple accents and the taste is both sharp and buttery. With any luck, we will still be graced with a few blue skies before the final days of summer ebb away, but for the grey days I highly recommend embracing the charms of pastry.
Rustic Apple Tarts – with Maple-Blackberry Sauce
For the pastry:
200g plain flour
90g butter (softened)
65g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tsp cinnamon
For the filling:
2 large Granny Smith apples (or other tart variety)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp plan flour
For the sauce:
50ml maple syrup
grated zest of 1 orange
For the bake:
1 beaten egg yolk
- First, make the pastry. Combine the butter and sugar in a bowl and work together until light and creamy.
- Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well in between each addition.
- Add the flour and cinnamon and work lightly together with a fork or spatula until the mixture becomes a dough.
- Knead the dough very briefly against the bottom of the bowl with the heel of your hand before forming it into a bowl and wrapping in cling film. Leave it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. The dough must be very firm before rolling out.
- Meanwhile peel and core the apples and slice into thin segments.
- Add the apple to a large bowl and mix with the flour, cinnamon and lemon juice. Leave to one side.
- Divide the dough into four equal sections.
- Place each piece onto a well-floured surface and roll out into a rough disc approximately 1cm thick. Be careful not to roll it too thin or you may have problems forming the tart.
- Place a handful of the apple slices in the centre of each dough disc (either arrange in a pretty shape or just go rustic).
- Bring the edges of the dough up the the apples, covering them a little but allowing a large gap around the top.
- Brush each tart with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle generously with the demerara sugar.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until the tarts are golden brown and the apple is cooked through. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
- To make the sauce add the blackberries and orange zest to a pan with a splash of water.
- Cook gently until the fruit breaks down and allow the water to reduce slightly.
- Add the maple syrup and cook for a minute or two longer.
- Set aside to serve warm or store in a jar for later.