My life in London always feels like a series of weekend travels interrupted by weekdays of work, but the past few months have been a whirlwind even for me. In a mere four weeks, for instance, I spent days peering out the top of a Land Cruiser at zebras and elephants and lions, days climbing into the innermost burial chambers of a number of the nearly 180 pyramids found in Egypt, days flying prop planes over Mt. Kilimanjaro, and, on each of those days, seen so many places I almost couldn’t believe I would ever see with my own eyes (I’ve also seen more paperwork than I ever thought I’d see with my own eyes, between vaccinations and visas and hotel bills). And, in between those days of travelling, I have had visitors in droves from America and Paris and beyond, witnessed a few unforgettable shows, watched a few of the most memorable films I’ve seen in months, finished a handful of the most engaging (and sometimes controversial amongst our holiday book club) books, ushered in Spring amongst the flowers in bloom and eaten in some of my most beloved places. There just hasn’t been much time left to spend in the kitchen, you see. The place that is usually at the forefront of my mind held only a cameo role in the story of my life over the past 4 weeks (once to make a traditional batch of pre-flight, pre-annual exotic adventure with FDW pecan buns and three times to feed guests that have come to expect to gain weight my house with chocolate sheet cake, macaroni and cheese, chocolate apricot cookies and red velvet cake). And so, it was with great joy and excitement that I stepped into my kitchen on Sunday with no deadlines, no places to be (aside from upstairs sorting through weeks worth of laundry, but that’s the best excuse to be in the kitchen anyway), no guests to entertain, no e-ticket in my left hand and passport in my right.
And no sooner had I stepped into the kitchen and cleared off the counters full of old mail and souvenirs that I unearthed a small paperback book that FDW had brought with him from home when he arrived for our safari what felt like ages ago. We met in Terminal 5 at Heathrow (my “happy place”) bright and early on a Saturday morning and didn’t see our luggage again until 10 or so hours later, when we were ushered into our hotel in Nairobi. So it was that I found myself, at nearly midnight, safari-time, digging through my brother’s bag to uncover all the goodies he had brought to me from home. At the time, that small paperback book was understandably overshadowed by treasures such as my brand new camera, fluer de sel caramel-filled chocolate from a trip to Paris the week before (FDW has kept himself busy these past few weeks, as well) and a signed copy of Alice Waters’ magnum opus. But, yesterday morning that little, well-travelled book was the Holy Grail, the missing link, the one thing I needed in a sea of bills and laundry and unread emails. The book, affectionately entitled, “Now that’s a Linzertorte! 30 Years of Recipes and Vermont Stories from the Trapp Family Lodge”, was written by the Executive Pastry Chef of one of my favourite hotels in the world, The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. My parents, lovers of all things skiing and mountain-related, have been taking us “kids” to Trapp since we were born. I took my first steps outside a Trapp Family villa. I learned how to cross-country ski out Trapp’s front doors. When I watched The Sound of Music for the first time it was the visions of von Trapp children and grandchildren whose photos line the halls of the Trapp Family Lodge that I had in my mind. And I had my first taste of pure Vermont maple syrup at Trapp’s astounding breakfast buffet (followed, years later, by my first visit to Trapp’s syrup house, to taste “sugar on snow” for the first time and to learn how it is that they make that most perfect of syrups). It’s a magical place. It’s, as the welcome sign that greets you reads, “a little of Austria and a lot of Vermont”. It’s maple syrup and warm fires and cozy reading rooms. And maple syrup. And home. And that syrup. As soon as I opened the book I knew whatever I made would have to feature maple syrup (despite the initial urge to make the ubiquitous Linzertorte I presume I’ll feel every time I open this book). I narrowed down which maple-infused recipe to make based on sheer preservation tactics: I am no longer within driving distance of the best maple syrup in the world and so I must fiercely preserve the few jugs I have in England, which meant I quickly pushed aside anything asking for 2 cups (or more!) of the sweet nectar. The whole-wheat maple apple tart seemed a fitting compromise, calling for less than ½ a cup, and it was that fact which sealed the sweet deal.
As soon as I began assembling the ingredients, I discovered that my preservation tactics were paying off in spades. This is an interesting recipe: the tart dough is assembled by first creaming butter with brown sugar (usually the first step in my cake-making process, but never before when I made a crust), there is no freezing/pre-baking of the dough required (and for a girl who has had many an escapade with tart dough in her tempermental oven this was a surprising twist), the cream cheese filling, which makes up the bulk of this tart, tasted to me just like the French toast bagel with cream cheese at Panera Bread and the number of apples (2) left little be done in the peeling/slicing department. It’s an easy dessert to create, to be sure. And yet, it is so surprising. Truth be told, it’s more like a cheesecake than a tart, right down to that gooey, brown sugar, heavens-be-praised stable crust (surely I’m not the only one who has PTSD from experiencing the terrifying phenomenon that is a sunken tart crust?). A tart-y cheesecake? A cheesecake-y tart? I lost all desire to debate the semantics as soon as I took my first bite. I was floating in a maple syrup and cream cheese dream right there in my neglected English kitchen. And, after travelling so far from home, this was the perfect reminder of just where I’ve come from.
Whole Wheat Maple Apple Tart
Adapted from Now That’s a Linzertorte! 30 Years of of Recipes and Vermont Stories from the Trapp Family Lodge
For the whole wheat crusts*:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/3 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 whole egg
For the filling/topping:
1 lb. cream cheese
1/4 cup Vermont maple syrup
1 whole egg
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup Vermont maple syrup for brushing on tart
2 tart apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
1/8 cup cinnamon sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Start with the crust, mixing the butter and brown sugar together until slightly creamy. Add egg and flours. Mix into a workable dough.
Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tart pan. Divide dough into two halves, set aside one half in freezer or in the fridge for later use (or double filling/topping recipe to make 2 tarts). Divide remaining half into thirds. Press two thirds into the bottom of the tart shell. Use the remaining third to use as the rims.
Make the filling by combining the cream cheese and maple syrup and beating until creamy. Add the egg and the flour and mix until smooth.
Spread the filling into the tart shell. Layer the apples over the filling, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and brush with maple syrup.
Bake tart for 40 minutes or until golden. Remove tart from pan while still slightly warm and chill.
Serve cool with ice cream or whipped cream.
*This recipe (and most in the book) makes 2 10-inch pies. While I halved the filling/topping ingredients, I did make two crusts and have left the recipe as is for that reason (I don’t like halving eggs, for one, and who wouldn’t want another one of these crusts at the ready in the freezer?).