HAVE you met my Tarte aux Pommes, this beauty of an apple tart? Here she is in all her glory, naked in the flesh, as yet unbaked and undressed.
The rose is complete, but it needs one final touch — the fiery test of a 175°C oven, all 50 minutes of it, followed by a burst of 230°C brûlée heat, about four to five minutes, carefully guarded with an eagle’s eye,
till the edges of the 2mm-thick apple petals are burnished with a sophisticated brown, like an artist giving the lines of each petal added depth and definition.
I had snapped this pose before the final brush of melted butter and a delicate rain of caster sugar. I seldom ever have the time to pause and admire this magnificent rose, because like all bakers working under the pressing demands of time, everything we do, every movement we make, is marked with a relentless forward motion, boom, boom, boom, next, next, next, with Focus looming over us like a hard task master.
Contemplating La Tarte
The only time I get to pause in an act of contemplation is when I’ve sent la belle tarte into the oven. I return to the desk for a quick post-production recap to fill out vital notes — always a blend of brutal critique or bracing praises and rah-rahs.
This particular tarte, my 27th, made me smile, not just because my rosace effort was gorgeous, but because I was something of a Speedy Gonzales: 15 minutes 15 seconds to peel, core, and slice my apples — can you guess how many apples we use? — and 13 minutes 45 seconds to finish the rose. It’s my fastest attempt ever, my median is about 15 to 16 minutes.
I’ve also made another remark, “rosace: tight” — which is what I’ve been working on, making the petals as tight as I can without being too crowded.
Too tight, the petals bunch up, making the arrangement work a pain, like having more teeth than your jaw can accommodate. Too loose, the flower would look malnourished, its petals sparse and withered, in need of vital dew.
The tightness is critical, I’ve learned, since the heat dissipates moisture from the apple slices, causing them to shrink dramatically, so that instead of having vibrant slices in an elegant overlay, they could sit as ugly, lone petals.
Why This Rose is Magnificent
If you could allow me to get a little geeky and arty, I’ll explain why I’m giving my rose this bold, audacious adjective, Magnificent.
I’m not simply bandying a fancy word glibly, I’m being an articulate and precise copywriter, who has spent many, many hours with the baker, and I know more than a thing or two about the mechanics of fashioning a rose of great beauty.
You see, the baker used to start building the inner flower with apple slices overlapping the outer ring just by a little. These days, she overlaps the petals more boldly, covering almost half of the outer ring so that her rose is not a tiny, timid flower, but a gorgeous, magnificent beauty.
So, this Valentine’s, if you’re looking for not just a rose, but an exquisite one fashioned on a bed of delicious, gently-spiced apple compote, say hello to the baker! She’s always grateful for the opportunity to meditate on the rhythmic knife work of slicing apples and that ever-unfolding tableau, petal upon petal — one that ultimately reveals a rose, une rose simple et belle et magnifique!