“What would you do if you lost your favorite thing”? I still remember exactly where I was sitting, in health class in my sophomore year of high school, when the teacher asked that question. What I thought was: I’d just keep searching until I find it. And then the teacher said, to a class of 30 or so teenagers, “Most of us would sit down and cry, but Debbie [I was Debbie until I was 18] would keep looking until she found it.”
Trust me. It was an antisemitic diss. This woman was a bubby, blond, gym teacher. Her name was still Debbie, at 35. She had bouncy hair and bouncy breasts, and was a former cheerleader. She was the one who told us that Jewish women get breast cancer because of eating matzah balls. Not kidding. She didn’t like me. I was mortified.
I remembered that antisemite cheerleader mortification moment last week when a routine ipad update wiped out my hard drive and I lost a year’s worth of photos. Thinking I had a current backup, I installed the new OS and something fried the firmware. My beloved tech team, Bob and Mary, applied all their magic. The geniuses at Apple took a passing shot. The iPad, Dr. Jonas Salk, was pronounced dead. Enter Icarus, her replacement. Data: Gone.
I was kind of a wreck for a couple of days. Contrary to cheerleader opinion, I am not purely practical. Loss is painful. No sense in distinguishing tragic loss from the more mundane kind. It reminds us of our impermanence. There is no solution; loss is a part of life. There is a point at which searching delays acceptance. Once I gave up the search, I began to move forward.
I got out flour, and sugar, butter, and apples. And bowls. Time to bake. Time to make new images. And new memories. Time to balance loss with sweetness.
You may recognize this type of cookie tart; I made a banana version last winter. This apple version is similar to a tart tatin, but better because…cookie! The crust is just a little chewy, the apples are tender. The flavor is bright, deep, buttery, toffee, with a whisper of vanilla.
Caramel Apple Upside Down Cookie Tart
3 apples, peeled, cored, cut in quarters*
1 stick butter, divided, room temp
1 cup cane sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup bread flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
*use an apple that will hold its shape when baked. I like golden delicious or jonagold.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Make the crust. You may do this in a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, in a food processor, or by hand. Combine 6 tbs. butter and ¾ cup sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix well. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge while you cook the apples.
Melt the remaining 2 tbs. butter with the ¼ cup sugar in an 8 inch cast iron skillet. Place the apples, rounded side down, in the skillet, crowding them a little (check out my photo); they will shrink as they cook. You will have a few pieces left over to munch. Sauté over high heat for 3-4 minutes, then turn heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook for 7-9 minutes, until the apples turn translucent all the way through. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Using a nonstick board (I use a plastic cutting board), press the dough into an 8 inch circle (I use the pot lid as a guide). A pastry scraper or spatula will help you lift the round and place it on top of the apples, tucking the edges around the side of the pan.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cookie crust is slightly browned. Let cool 3 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edge to make sure the crust isn’t stuck.
Place a serving plate over the pan. Use a good oven mitt or kitchen towel to wrap the pan’s handle. Take a deep breath, and in one swift, confident motion, invert the pan so that the tart falls onto the plate. Use an offset spatula to reposition any stray apple or caramel.
I like to serve this warm with homemade ice cream. Pictured here: Bourbon Vanilla Dulce de Leche. I promise, I’ll write up that recipe soon! If you don’t have homemade ice cream, good purchased vanilla or dulce de leche is wonderful. Or, go with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
And don’t forget to back up your devices!