I have such a hard time picking favorites. I really do. At least once per season I can be heard exclaiming “THIS is my favorite time of year!”
In truth, I really just think that I love transition, the newness of the seasons and the sense of potential and promise that come from a fresh start. My favorite season is the first two weeks of every season.
But, if it really came down to it, my truly favorite season is autumn. Specifically early autumn. The bounty of summer harvest is still in full swing, the trees begin dropping leaves in a kaleidoscope of flaming hues, the oppressive heat of summer softens comfortably with the occasional brisk breeze, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s also my birthday season!
The pace of life begins to slow, and in contrast to the don’t-miss-a-thing, fever-pitch of summer, I begin finding moments to sip slowly on my morning coffee. I find myself lazily daydreaming as I watch the fog rolling in off the bay and find comfort in a familiar wool sweater, pulled once again from it’s cedar-lined summer home.
Best yet, it’s finally cool enough to consider turning on my home oven, and the warming-spices of winter are back in my baking arsenal.
So, when I decided to include a quarterly post highlighting my favorite seasonal recipes, autumn seemed like the only place to start.
Since childhood, fall has always meant wandering through u-pick apple orchards and sipping on fresh pressed apple cider. I know that autumn means pumpkin spice to many, but for me it’s unequivocally apple cider. This recipe might be all of my most nostalgic flavors all rolled into one: deep, toasty caramel, fresh-pressed apple cider, rich custard with a kiss of green cardamom, all wrapped in a classic buttery vanilla bean tart crust.
I love the 1-2-3 tart dough recipe from Brave Tart and wouldn’t change a thing! It rolls out, patches in a most forgiving way, and is perfect for sweet and tender crusts. Plus, (if you remember from my last post) I love recipes that are built off of classic ratios. I would definitely recommend opting for the addition of fresh vanilla bean, though.
The custard recipe is a very slight adaptation of the baked custard tart from Butter Baking with the small adjustment of adding of 1/2 tsp of cardamom with the cream. I also made the recipe into 10 individual tarts rather than one large one and baked, as directed, until the custard had just the slightest wobble to it.
The real show-stopper here, though, is the apple cider caramel. THIS is what it’s really all about. Smooth and creamy, and with an impressive depth of apple flavor, this caramel is just as good eaten by the spoon as anything else, but I like it best with a creamy custard or ice cream to balance the sweetness.
Tart dough: Follow the directions, adding the optional 1/2 vanilla bean, and baking in 10 mini tart shells. Pre-bake shells with weights (I use dry beans and a cupcake liner) until very lightly golden.
Custard: Follow recipe for custard, adding 1/2 tsp ground green cardamom to the heated cream. Fill the tarts 3/4 with custard, leaving a bit a room for the layer of caramel on top.
Apple cider caramel:
8 oz (1 cup) fresh pressed apple cider
1 oz (2 Tablespoons) heavy cream
6 oz sugar
1-2 oz water, just enough to wet the sugar
2 oz (4 Tablespoons, 1/2 stick) butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Reduce apple cider to 3 oz
- Combine cream with hot cider reduction and set aside, but do not allow to cool completely
- Combine sugar and water in a thick-bottom, medium sized pot. The sugar will bubble up a lot when the cream/cider is added, so leave extra room. Stir so that the sugar is completely wet.
- Heat over medium-high, but do not stir at all once heating. If the sugar begins to crystallize on the edges of the pot, gently brush with a wet pastry brush to wash down the crystals.
- Cook until the sugar turns a deep amber brown, occasionally swirling the pot to even out any hot spots.
- Once the sugar has reached desired deep color, remove from heat and gradually add the cream/cider mix, gently stirring with a whisk and allowing the bubbles to subside a bit between additions until all of the liquid is incorporated.
- Add the butter, and whisk until completely melted, then add the vanilla and salt.
- Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, before pouring over the custard.
- Chill before serving.