Those of us fortunate enough to grow up up with grandmothers in our lives no doubt all associate certain dishes exclusively with our grandmothers. Dishes that can be replicated in our own kitchens, but that will never taste the same unless made by our grandmothers’ hands. For me, that dish is my paternal grandmother’s Alsatian Apple Cake.
Having turned 96 in September, understandably, my grandmother rarely bakes these days. But once in a while, as I walk up the short flight of stairs to her apartment, I will recognise the heady smell of my favourite apple cake. Alsatian Apple Cake (which really is a tart but we always called it a cake growing up) is nothing fancy. But nonetheless something I absolutely adore. A crisp pastry base that is not too sweet. A lot of apples, peeled, halved, cored and cut into very thin slices. The apples are baked twice. First on the naked pastry base. And the second time, covered in an eggy vanilla-scented custard that puffs up in the heat of the oven.
For someone who has at least ‘an apple a day’ (whether or not that ‘keeps the doctor away’, and someone who, aged 10, decided she just HAD to learn how to make both Creme Caramel, such was her love affair with all things sweet eggy custards, Alsatian Apple Cake is the bees knees.
But because I can never leave a recipe alone and also because whatever Alsatian Apple Cake I may at some point bake will never equal my grandmother’s, I decided to swap in quince for the apples when I made this tart for brunch the other day. And because quince and saffron are a match made in heaven and I was recently gifted a rather generous amount of Iranian saffron, I used a saffron and honey flavoured custard to top the tart.
Not my grandmother’s Alsatian apple cake (a quince and custard tart!)
Note: If you are like me and only own a rather small tart pan, you will probably end up with some leftover pastry. You can either freeze the pastry for future uses or just use it to make a mini apple or quince or other seasonal fruit galette. You will also end up with double the amount of poached quince needed for this recipe. Preparing quince is not the most fun kitchen task and I am always glad once it’s over and I can still count 5 fingers on each hand. Any leftover quince from poaching or roasting simply get placed in a tupperware box where, stored in the fridge, it will happily keep for about a week. It goes without saying that poached quince is wonderful on top of porridge, sweet semolina, rice pudding or greek yoghurt.
For the poached quince
1.5kg quince (about 3 quince)
For the pastry
Pinch of salt
100g butter, cold and cut into small cubes
For the saffron custard
150ml whipping cream
A generous pinch of saffron
Start by preparing the quince. Peel, core and quarter the quince. Together with the sugar place the quince in a large sauce pan with enough water to cover the quince. Simmer until the quince is soft enough to easily be pierced with a fork, ca. 45 minutes to 1 hour.
While the quince is poaching, prepare the pastry base. Add the flour to a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar and pinch of salt. Form a well in the centre and add the egg and cold butter. Work the butter and egg into the flour until there are no large chunks of butter remaining and the entire mix resembles coarse sand. Using a small amount of water if necessary, carefully bring everything together into a ball of dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry until it is ca. O.5cm thick. Line a tart pan with the pastry, remove any excess pastry and prick the pastry all over with a fork. Top with a layer of parchment paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the baking beans and parchment paper.
Slice the quartered quinces in 0.5cm thick slices and place on the tart base.
For the custard, whisk the eggs, saffron and honey into the cream. Fill the tart base with the saffron custard and bake the tart for ca. 20-30 minutes or until the filling is barely set in the centre and light brown in colour.
Ideally serve the tart slightly warm with ice cold whipped cream.