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rustic apple tart with a lard and buttermilk crust

(post, Elizabeth Stark)

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Friday morning we awoke to a snowy wonderland and a surprise day off of work. The family bundled up for a snow adventure, and we stopped by the store and picked up apples on the way home. The snowy day was the ideal backdrop for tart making. I have been wanting to experiment with a lard crust for a while, and yesterday I finally had the opportunity.

Though the lard crust seemed straight forward enough, I wanted to attempt a quick puff pastry. I was daunted by all the instructions to fold and roll, fold and roll. It turns out that it's no big deal. Just some extra rolling time. The cookbooks I consulted were full of tricks and additional steps, but I was really trying to make something simple, with just the most necessary elements. And so I offer you, dear reader, this recipe for a rustic apple tart with an all-lard buttermilk puff pastry crust.

But first, some notes on the recipe.

Lard: Due to its unpopular status, lard turns over pretty slowly on grocery store shelves. Leaf lard is a more consistent product and you should seek this out if you are buying baking lard off the shelf. We are fortunate to live in close proximity to the Meat Hook, which renders lard regularly. Their product is fresh and has a great, consistent flavor.

Quick puff pastry crust: Sugar can impede flakiness, so for optimal pastry puffiness I omitted the sugar from the crust, and this was fine since the tart topping is very sweet. Also, if you are not up to the fold and roll, you can skip it. Conversely, if you are totally fancy an want to puffiest crust ever, add some more fold and roll. No matter what you do, keep the dough cold. If it gets even slightly warm, stop rolling and give it a rest in the refrigerator for 15 or 20 minutes.

Apples: I used large Gala apples. Use any type you like as long as they have firm, crisp flesh and good flavor. You can add lemon juice and zest for tartness if needed. I didn't peel mine, though in this case, I should have. Lesson learned. Also, you will probably have a nicer looking tart if you use sliced apple halves, it turns out that sliced rounds only look as good as the hole for the core, and in my case, that was kind of shabby. Now I know.

Rustic Apple Tart with a Lard and Buttermilk Crust
serves at least 8

for the crust
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold, fresh lard
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 or more tablespoons ice water

In the bowl of your food processor pulse together the flour and salt. Then add the lard and pulse just a few times. Add the buttermilk, pulse until just combined, and then sprinkle in the water and pulse until your dough is holding together. Form into to a small round and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fit the bottom of a large baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper and set aside. On a lightly floured sheet of parchment, roll the dough out into a rectangle. Fold it over into thirds, like a letter you are folding to fit an envelope. Then roll it out into a rectangle and fold again. Do this at least four times. Set the roughly 10 x 14" dough rectangle onto the prepared cookie sheet and put the whole thing into the refrigerator while you prepare the fruit.

for the fruit
4 large apples
5 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup sugar
a few grates of lemon zest
2 tablespoons rum

Peel, carefully core, and cut the apples into 1/4" slices (either whole rounds, or halves). Pull the prepared crust out of the refrigerator. Arrange the apples on the crust, overlapping slightly. Dot with 4 tablespoons of butter, diced, and the lemon zest, and then evenly pour on all but three tablespoons of the sugar. Put into the top rack of the oven. Eventually, the apples are going to release their juices and it is going to smoke and burn. Don't worry about it. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is golden and everything seems bubbly and delicious.

Pull the tart out of the oven and make the glaze. In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and two tablespoons of rum. Stir until it becomes quite bubbly and the sugar has completely dissolved. Using a pasty brush, brush the glaze over the apples. Let the tart cool for at least 30 minutes, though an hour is ideal.