This is not an instrument of torture. On the contrary, it actually saves me quite a lot of pain and suffering during holiday baking seasons when I decide to make my famous-in-my-own-head French Apple Pie/Tarts. I don’t make them every year, but perhaps now that I’ve started this blog, I’ll do them this Christmas. Anyway, when peeling a bunch of apples, this gadget comes in very handy. As the Williams-Sonoma catalog says, “There’s nothing better or faster for peeling, slicing and coring apples than this old-fashioned tool.” And, yes, that is where I got it.
It’s awesome. There’s the visceral thrill of stabbing the apple onto the spiky end. A few quick cranks on the handle, and the apple is peeled, cored, and it takes only two or three chops with a knife to have apple slices or bits, perfect for pies and tarts! If you remove the coring blade, you can just peel the apple—if you prefer chunks in your pies, or you just want a peeled apple for some reason. Picky kids or husbands, maybe.
I will say that the one thing not so great about this contraption is that in order to clean it, you have to unscrew all the parts, wash them separately and put it all back together again when they’re dry. And there’s the tricky part. There are a lot of little screws and springs, and it’s hard to remember where which bit goes.
In addition to apples, it also works on anything firm and roundish that you’d want to peel, like potatoes. I figured it would work on pears…it does…sort of. If you have an extremely ripe, soft pear, this is a bit of a disaster. The peeling arm really gouged into the pear and the coring blade ended up mooshing the fruit instead of coring and slicing it. Oh well. Live and learn. My pears were perhaps a little over-ripe anyway.
What was I doing messing about with my peeler gadget and all this fruit, you might ask? Making Apple & Pear Whiskey-Almond Custard Tarts. Sugar Momma had received some mail-order apples and pears from a cousin, and offered some to me. I was supposed to make dessert for a birthday dinner with friends, and remembered that one of them really liked fruit desserts, so I took Mom up on the fruit offer.
I decided that I would combine two tried-and-true dessert recipes together to make these little tarts: my holiday French Apple Pie recipe and the Whiskey Pear Tart recipe from the Baked Explorations cookbook by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. From the Apple Pie recipe, I took the graham cracker crust and the chopped apples. From the Whiskey Pear Tart, I took the whiskey-soaked pears and the almond custard filling. As a final twist, I arranged the pears and apples in the shape of a rose. I’d seen this on a tart in the Whole Foods bakery case and was dying to try it myself.
A few notes before the recipe: Everything in the recipe is portioned to make six small tarts. I like them as tarts because it means everyone gets way more crust, and graham cracker crust seems to be one of those things that no one can get enough of. You could make a larger, 8- or 9-inch, pie but you will probably need to increase the filling by at least half, if not double.
Apple & Pear Whiskey-Almond Custard Tarts
- 2 apples
- 2 pears
Peel and thinly slice fruit into pieces approx. ¼-inch thick and ranging from ½- to 1-inch long.
For the whiskey-vanilla soaking syrup:
- 4 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon* (divided)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (divided)
- 6 tablespoons sugar (divided)
- 1 vanilla pod, seeded or 2 tablespoons vanilla extract (divided)
Make two batches of syrup (one for the pears, one for the apples), each using half of the called-for ingredient. (e.g. 2 tablespoons whiskey, 3 tablespoons sugar, etc.) The reason for this is so each batch of syrup is equally sweet, boozy, etc. If you’re really lazy, you can do it all in one bowl and divide it, but you might not get the same mix in each batch of fruit. Add half of the scraped vanilla pod into each batch. Toss fruit lightly in the mixture and soak overnight in the refrigerator in a covered container.
*I always have to ask Shake this. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. We keep a ginormous bottle of Maker’s Mark in our house, so that’s what I usually use.
For the crust:
- 2 packages graham crackers, finely ground (approx. 3 cups of crumb)
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350˚. Combine ingredients and press into tart pans. Be generous. Everyone loves graham cracker crust. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned.
For the filling:
- 1 8-ounce can almond paste
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cool but not cold
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons whiskey
Cream the butter and almond paste on medium in the bowl of a standing mixer (use the paddle attachment), until the mixture is light and fluffy, with no lumps, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs and beat until combined. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the mix and turn the speed to low. Add the whiskey slowly and beat until combined.
Fill each tart crust halfway with the almond custard. Starting in the center, working your way out, set apple and pear slices in alternating rows to imitate rose petals. (This is why you needed to make the fruit in separate batches—they are hard to distinguish from each other.) About ⅓ of the slice should be buried in custard; the rest should be sticking up.
Bake for 40 minutes at 350˚, or until fruit and custard start to turn golden and the custard has puffed up around the fruit. Serve with ice cream.
Oh, and as for what the title of this post references?
Who’s your friend?