Hello All: When I was a girl, I was—like all small children—dazzled by the lights of this holiday season. Raised in the Conservative tradition of Sephardic Judaism, our holiday rituals were firmly grounded in the lighting of candles on our family's menorah year after year. Christmas was all around us—the town's streets decorated for the season, holiday television specials; we went to Radio City Musical Hall to see the Christmas spectacular every year—but it wasn't until I became an adult that I had any inclining that Christmas could be a part of my own traditions. Having begun celebrating Christmas rather late in life, I struggled to find a meaning in the celebrations. I struggled to make it my own. Now, with my family, I see Christmas and Hanukkah as about the giving. It is about selecting the right moment to tell my family and friends I love them, about delivering a basket to a nearby church for a needy family. It is about watching my daughter create paper robots from the kit she was given Christmas morning, about seeing my son pour over the pocket map of Europe he found in his stocking, as he imagines his upcoming travels. It is about holding my husband's hand by the fire as we delight in our tradition of watching holiday movies. It's A Wonderful Life is my favorite of them all. Most of you know the story. Although I have watched it a million times, I see something new every year. This year, I came to view George Bailey's life as one about giving, even when it means denying himself the fulfillment of his hopes and dreams. It is only when he's given the gift of seeing a world where he never existed, that he is able to find peace in his choices, with his family and friends around him. It's a wonderful life.
Christmas Eve we had this Apple Tarte Tatin (upside down apple tart) for part of our celebration. Both elegant and simple, this classic French tart is equally suitable to dress up your New Year's Eve dinner or serve at New Year's Day brunch. The apples are caramelized in butter and sugar, then baked to a golden brown. You'll feel like a magician as you flip it onto a serving platter to reveal its beauty and flavors. Try it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
I hope your holidays continue to be filled with light and joy.
Thank you for all you give every day.
I look forward to gathering flavors with you in the New Year.
APPLE TART TATIN
Yield: 8 Servings
Buttermilk Pie Crust (recipe included)
- ½ stick unsalted butter (4 tablespoons)
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 8 Granny Smith applies, peeled cored and quartered
- confectioner's sugar or fresh whipped cream, for garnish at serving
For the crust:
- 2 and ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup salted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
- ½ cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces (use organic vegetable shortening if you can)
- 6 tablespoons buttermilk, chilled
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter and vegetable shortening. Cut them in to the flour by using your hands or a pastry blender. Blend until the mixture resembles a coarse meal the size of peas.Add the buttermilk and mix it until the mixture is just moistened, not wet. (This can all be done in a food processor if you prefer.)
- Press the dough together and divide it in half. Shape each half in to a ball, then flatten into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill it for one hour in the refrigerator. Save one disk for future pies or tarts. (You can freeze it for up to one month.)
- After the ball of dough has chilled for one hour, take it out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Working on a floured work surface, roll the dough out until it is about ⅛ inch thick and approximately a 10-inch circle. Place the rolled out dough on a cookie sheet, cover it lightly with parchment pa, and place it in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Set out a 9- or ten-inch ovenproof skillet or cast iron pan.
- Place the butter and brown sugar in a 2-cup plastic or glass measuring cup. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the microwave oven on high for one minute. The butter should be melted.
- Uncover and whisk the melted butter and sugar together. Pour this evenly into the bottom of the ovenproof skillet or cast iron pan.
- Fit a layer of apples into the skillet, putting the apples into the pan rounded side down and making concentric circles. Pack the apples snugly because they will shrink as they cook. When you've got a single layer, cut the remaining apple quarters in half and strew them over the first layer. Don't worry about how the second layer looks, just strew the apples evenly throughout the pan.
- Remove the rolled out dough from the refrigerator. Center it over the fruit, loosely tucking in any overhang.
- Place a cookie sheet in the preheated oven and the prepared tart onto the cookie sheet. (The liquid in the apples will bubble up while baking. Some may drip out of the pan. The cookie sheet is there to catch the drips.)
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is baked through, apple liquid bubbling.
- Allow to cool slightly. Run a sharp knife around the rim of the pan, loosening the baked pastry dough. Cover the baking pan with a large rimmed serving platter, and turn the tart out onto the platter to remove it from the pan. (You'll want to keep your oven mitts on for this part of the process.) If any of the apples have stuck to the pan, gently lift them off the pan with a spatula and press them gently back onto the tart.
- Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve garnished with confectioner's sugar or fresh whipped cream.
Note: This recipe was adapted from: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.