The boys look forward to a few special days each year. The big ones like Christmas and their birthdays are obvious, but one of their favorites is opening day of apple season.
We make the trek east each Labor Day weekend on the Pomona Freeway toward San Bernardino, then exit into the foothills where Los Angeles peels away to orchards that support communities in existence to grow, harvest and sell apples.
Snow-Line, Riley’s and Willowbrook apple farms host scores of visitors with hot fry cakes, fresh pressed cider, and “mile high” apple pies. Our favorite is Snow-Line because it’s a simple assemblage of red barns, orchards for picking and a hillbilly musician who takes his break between songs with a cold can of Coke in his dilapidated old red Cadillac parked in the shade.
This year we picked enough apples to give a few sacks to friends, and got the inspiration from the “mile high” to bake a more manageable Tarte Tatin, my favorite apple dessert. Don’t be intimidated by the French name; this is a delicious open-faced pie with lots of gooey caramel.
We’ll go four or five more times to the orchards before Christmas, but the first visit of each season is the most magical because it’s like seeing an old friend that’s been hiding close by. If you ever come to visit, we’ll take you up the hill to apple country.
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Apple Tarte Tatin
32 ounces apple cider
2 cups packed brown sugar divided
3 apples, (such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp or Jonagold) peeled, halved and cored
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pecans
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the apple cider and 1 cup of the brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring the apple cider to a simmer over medium-high heat and stir with a whisk until the sugar dissolves.
Add the apples to the cider and poach for 10 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a cutting board to cool. Continue to boil the cider for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cider is reduced to 1-1/2 cups and is thickened to a syrup.
Melt the butter in a nonstick, 9-inch ovenproof sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of the cider syrup. Stir with a wooden spoon until the brown sugar is melted, about 3 minutes. Add the pecans and stir again to combine.
With the flat side down, slice each apple half lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices, cutting through most of the apple, but leaving a short uncut section at the stem end of the apple to hold the slices together. Place the apples, round side down, on top of the pecans. Press gently to fan the apple slices, filling the pan without overcrowding. Set aside any extra apples for another use (or eat and enjoy!).
Lay the pastry sheet on a floured surface and roll out with a rolling pin to fit the size of the pan. Fold over the edges to make the round shape of the pan. Prick the pastry in several places so steam can escape, then carefully lay the pastry on top of the apples. Tuck the edges around the pan to fit. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Place a large serving plate on top of the pan and turn it over to loosen the tart. Scrape any remaining caramel and pecans off the pan. Cut into wedges, then drizzle some cider syrup over each wedge. Serve with whipped cream or French vanilla ice cream.
Note: Use a melon baller to easily remove the core from the apple halves. The tart can be made in advance and warmed before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
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