‘Tis the season to mull as much booze as you can reach and, until Twelfth Night at least, the aromas emanating from my kitchen will have a heavy focus on Christmas spices and good old fashioned grog.
Everyone and their aunt has been banging on about mulled cider this year. Apparently, in 2013 at least, spiced hot cider is much more chi chi than spiced hot wine. Granted, cider is the more economical choice when fuelling a crowd, but I can’t say I’m wholly convinced mulled wine should be discounted entirely. Why can’t we have both? Preferably one in each hand for easy comparison. In fact, when it comes to mulling, why stop at just drinking?
This year I decided to try my new apple peeler/corer/slicer contraption kindly sent to me by John Lewis to make an apple tart. But I didn’t want to make just any apple tart. It’s Christmas week after all and I wouldn’t dream of discarding festive tradition by not throwing a tipple and a cinnamon stick at it. The contraption makes swift work of peeling, coring and slicing. In fact, I got through all the apples in less than 5 minutes, plus it was fun and looks a bit like a medieval torture device. So, win-win.
Firstly, I mulled some cider with a generous forkful of calvados (but you can use rum or brandy if you prefer) and poached some apples to make a base puree on which to place slices of apple in a concentric circle before drizzling everything in spiced caramel. You can buy readymade all butter puff pastry, make your own or make a gluten-free version using my recipe for GF flaky pastry. This pudding is delicious hot with custard or vanilla ice cream or you can serve it at room temperature as an afternoon pick-me-up. I served mine with homemade custard made in a non-stick milk pan from the Raymond Blanc collection. Now, I wouldn’t normally get that excited by a saucepan, but this saucepan is non-stick and also goes in the dishwasher. I made porridge in it the other day and decided to go crazy by not soaking it before popping it in the dishwasher. There wasn’t a scrap of baked-on oomska left when it came out, which makes this the lazy girl’s dream saucepan.
This tart makes a very sophisticated and festive alternative for Christmas pudding haters, plus it leaves you with a pan of mulled cider ready for drinking, so you have plenty to keep you going while you get the mulled wine on for afters.
Mulled Apple Tart
For the mulled cider
1 bay leaf
A few cloves
A few allspice berries
1 and a half cinnamon sticks
A suspicion of nutmeg
The grated zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1 star anise
5 tbsp. sugar
A good glug of calvados
For the mulled caramel
4 tbsp. soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp. calvados
A strip of orange zest
A strip of lemon zest
1 star anise
Half a cinnamon stick
For the tart
500g puff pastry/flaky pastry
7 eating apples (I used Jazz apples, because that’s what was in my fruit bowl)
First, make the mulled cider by placing everything, including the squeezed out orange and lemon and the scraped out vanilla pod, in a large saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Peel and core 3 apples and slice them before chucking them into the mulled cider. Once they are soft, drain and blitz in a food processor. Leave the puree to cool. While it is cooling, make the spiced caramel by chucking all the ingredients into a pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and boil until the liquid becomes caramel. Set aside.
Roll the pastry until it is about the thickness of a £1 coin. Place a dinner plate on top and draw the knife around the pastry to cut a large circle. Place the circle of pastry on a baking parchment lined baking sheet and prick it with a fork. Spread the cooled apple puree over the pastry. Core (peel if you like, but there’s no particular need) and slice the remaining apples and lay them over the puree in a concentric circle. Drizzle over a generous amount of the caramel, saving a couple of tbsp. for later and pop the tart in the oven to bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Trickle over the remaining caramel. Transfer the tart to a serving plate and dust with a little icing sugar before serving.