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This recipe comes from Joanne Chen, author of The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated Love Affair with Our Favorite Treats. In her new book, she goes on an exploration of sweets, bringing in historical anecdotes, scientific data, and refreshing honesty about her own sweet tooth along the way. For example, when given chocolate yogurt to eat in the dark and told that it was strawberry, 19 out of 32 subjects reported that it had "good strawberry flavor." The one thing she doesn't give you, however, is a set of recipes for her favorite sweets. So Chen agreed to share her Apple Custard Tart recipe here instead.

This tart is something my mother made since I was a child, so I assumed it was her special down-home recipe. Sure, I loved those American apple pies, but hers (I thought) were unique, boasting elegantly sliced apples arranged like a flower and drenched in sweet custard. But when I moved to New York, I discovered that her pie actually resembled the apple tart served in French bistros. It turned out what I've long thought was my Chinese-American mom's take on an American apple pie was in fact a classic French apple tart--one that she learned in an adult education class in our rural New England hometown.

Yes, I know what all the “seasonal eating” types are thinking: “But apples are a fall fruit!” Still, you can’t deny that they’re also convenient year-round, as are pre-made tart shells (which are used here). And while the cinnamon in the usual apple pie gives off a distinctive autumnal note, this one, made with custard, offers a tasty alternative. I’m an eater, not a baker, and I simply enjoy the fruits of my mother’s and (more often than not these days) my pastry-chef sister’s labor. But this recipe is very easy, particularly if you leave the crust-making to someone else. Top this dish with ice cream, and it’s this perfect balance of sweet and tart, smooth and crusty, warm and cool.

Chen's full recipe is after the jump.

Apple Custard Tart
(from Joanne Chen, author of The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated Love Affair with Our Favorite Treats)

Frozen sweet tart dough for a 9-inch tart pan (or see below, to make the tart shell yourself)
4 to 5 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored, halved, and sliced thinly, about an eighth of an inch)
2 eggs
1 C sugar
1 C heavy cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract

If you’re using store-bought crust, skip to the next step. If you’re using your own crust (recipe below), roll out tart dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Line tart pan with dough.

Lay the apple slices in the tart shell, overlapping them slightly, working in concentric circles, from the outside toward the center.

Gently whisk together the eggs, sugar, cream, and vanilla, just until combined. Pour this custard mixture over the apple slices.

Bake tart at 375 F until the top is golden and center is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Tart Dough
1 C confectioners sugar
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
1 stick of butter (4 oz, or 1/2 C)
1 egg

Sift together the confectioners sugar, flour, and salt.

Beat the butter until smooth; add the flour mixture and egg. Mix just until it comes together as an evenly formed mass.

Divide the dough into two discs. Wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

(This recipe makes enough dough for two 9-inch tarts or one double crusted 9-inch tart.)