It finally arrived, the tartes aux pommes (French apple tart) bake-off.
Just so everyone can remember just how crazy I am, I was talking to Michael about whether cooking is an art or a science, and I was on the side of science. So I decided I should try to be scientific about this comp.
So I went and bought all the different types of apples that I could find.
Then I made tarts with all of them.
While people were over, so that they could vote. I didn’t tell them which tart had which apple, and they gave feedback.
It was a bit unscientific, in that some of the tarts had been made earlier, and some were freshly made. Plus, the earlier ones had a burnt crust, until tributed spoke up, and the ones after that were better.
I didn’t tell them which was which on the day, but here’s what they were (each tart above is labelled with a post-it note):
#1 Golden delicious
#2 Pink lady
#5 Royal gala
#6 Granny smith
#7 Red delicious
None of them stood out as the clear winner, however, most people voted the jazz apple tarts either first or second. Then the next most popular ones were golden delicious and royal gala. I went to buy apples from the market (as you can’t seem to get jazz apples from regular supermarkets) only to find that I couldn’t see them anywhere. I looked online, and it seems they are currently out of season! So I tried for the golden delicious, as Serious Eats said they’re good, and that seems to be out of season, too!
In the end, I settled for royal gala apples, but I felt like it was already off to a bad start.
So you would think I had learned my lesson after the scone incident, and not tried a completely new recipe, but stuck with the recipe I had used 11 times already, but nope. I had faith in Thomas Keller, so I gave the pâte brisée (savoury pastry) recipe a try. And this time, I tried the apple tart recipe from Smitten Kitchen: https://smittenkitchen.com/2007/11/simplest-apple-tart/, which meant I didn’t blind bake my tart.
The pastry was super straightforward, and that part went OK. The filling started off fine, but I added far too much water while making the glaze, and it took forever to reduce down to a syrup. When it hit midnight, I decided to call it a night, added some apricot jam, drained some of the water (and the amazing smelling apple flavour that went with it), added a bit more sugar, and managed to reduce it to a fairly watery syrup. Gave my tart a quick brush, and went to bed.
In the morning, I had plans to make coffee with Mr Brioche, and sadly found out that he had forgotten about the comp, so he didn’t bring anything. While I was there, Michael arrived, and luckily, he did remember.
Here are our two tarts:
So, you’re probably wondering which one is mine, and wtf happened to the one on the left.
Before we start, let me remind you that Michael is the French master chef.
We did the usual experiment, I left my voting box out, the tarts were cut into small pieces (rather than slices, we decided “squares” would be better, as eating two whole slices of apple tart, especially after breakfast, is quite a lot), and the plates were labelled A and B (the left one was A, the right one was B).
Here are the results:
The results were 2 : 3 : 8, with one of the votes for A saying, “What is it? Where is a texture? Is it a pie? Taste really good though :)” The general consensus was that plate A tasted better, and plate B looked better.
I can’t believe that mine looked better. I never make anything that looks pretty.
Remember my dumpy Santa Claus cookie?
So to answer what happened to plate A, Michael had some friends over during the weekend, and ended up making the apple tart for them, and bringing the leftovers to work. Despite the fact that I knew it contained milk and egg (he made the Normandy variation), I tried a piece, and it was amazingly delicious. I would have voted for it over mine, if I had been allowed to vote.
It turns out that Michael has quite a bit of experience making tarts, and his feedback for me was that my crust was too thick (and Mr Brioche said it was a bit too salty), and I needed more apple glaze, and maybe to also blind-bake my crust. MrFodder said something similar about the crust (he ate some of the leftover crust I baked for my ice cream, but wasn’t able to eat the final product).
As I think this may be the last baking comp on my old floor (since Michael and Mr Brioche seem to have lost interest), I was thinking about it on the way home today. I know it seems like I’m super competitive about it, as I go to crazy lengths to buy things like giant rolling pins, and benriners from Japan, but I honestly don’t think that was ever the thing that was spurring me. When I lost the brioche comp, it actually made me happy (I know nobody is going to believe me, but it is the truth). The thing that I craved most out of the baking competitions wasn’t the competition itself, but the motivation to push myself.
For most of the things that I do, the person I am competing against is myself. I honestly think I would be perfectly content losing baking competitions every day for the rest of my life, if I knew that I was improving every day. To think that a year ago, I had never made a croissant, couldn’t speak a word of French other than basic greetings, please, thanks, and boisson, had never made melon pan, strudel, anpan – the entire world of bread and pastry feels open for exploration. I’ve learned so much about French cuisine, and fine dining. I’ve expanded my culinary toolkit. I’ve made my own ice-cream! To think that all of that was triggered by one simple conversation on the way to the train station. I sometimes wonder if that was one of the sliding doors moments of my life, and if I hadn’t asked to join Michael that day, how different my life would be right now.
Elise left a comment on my post about crème caramel (on the Blogger version of my blog):
I didn’t know soufflé was supposed to be extremely difficult! My mother made them regularly for dinner growing up and I have made cheese soufflés pretty successfully! Just have to beat the egg whites to the correct point.
And after today, I feel inspired to give it a shot this weekend!