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A Matisse-Inspired Apple Tart

Monday, 22 March 2010

Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Apples, 1916. Oil on canvas, 116.9 x 88.9 cm (46 x 35 in.) The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, 1948.563. © 2010 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

This past Saturday, The Art Institute of Chicago launched an exhibition entitled, Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917. In the words of the curator, "this exhibition examines what is without question the most innovative, momentous, and yet little-studied time in the artist’s long career." It's at the Art Institute through June 20. You must get there.

For me, it was a great excuse to collaborate with fellow food blogger Megan Fizell and her site Feasting on Art, which I profiled a few posts back. Megan creates and photographs recipes inspired by great works of art. We decided to each create a dish - one savory and one sweet - inspired by a painting in the exhibition and, you guessed it, it's the one above, Apples, which is actually in the Art Institute's permanent collection and a real stunner, especially in person.

Megan chose a savory apple recipe - Apple & Shallot Croquettes, and I chose a rustic apple tart from David Tanis' brilliant book, A Platter of Figs, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Definitely check out Megan's discourse on the Matisse painting on her blog post. She's an art historian and her knowledge of this period of Matisse's career is highly illuminating.

But let's get on with the tart. It's both rustic and elegant. It's simple yet also a showstopper. I think your guests will agree. Serve alongside creme fraiche.

Apple Tart
adapted from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs
enough for 2 tarts


2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for sprinkling
2 sticks cold butter cut in thin slices
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten plus enough ice water to make one cup
8 medium, crisp apples
1 cup sugar for the glaze plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup water


Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it looks mealy, with some large flecks of butter remaining. Pour the egg-ice water mixture into the bowl and quickly knead the dough for only a minute or two, until it comes together. It will be soft, a little sticky, and, though gathered together, a little rough looking.

Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and pat into a rectangle about an inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Divide the pastry in half (there will be enough for 2 tarts; you can freeze one half for later.) Sprinkle your surface with flour and roll out the pastry to a rectangle, approximately 11 by 16 inches, using a 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch baking sheet as a template.

Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and let it relax, then trim the edges to fit the pan with a little dough going up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Peel the apples and cut into quarters, Remove the cores and use to make a glaze as follows: Combine the 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water with the cores. Stir first to dissolve the sugar, then simmer to a thick syrup. Strain and reserve. Slice the apples as thin as possible. Arrange the apple slices over the pastry in 5 rows, overlapping them like cards in solitaire. You can see I wasn't so strict on this point, below. Crimp the dough around the edges of the apples with your hands. At this point the tart can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 8 hours. It's OK if the apples darken.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the apples and bake until they are beautifully browned and the pastry is crisp about 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Just before serving, reheat the glaze. Slide the tart from the pan to a cutting board. Paint the apples with the warmed glaze. Slice into small rectangles and serve.

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