We’re suddenly more than halfway through the first week of December. How did that even happen? I was just picking apples at the local orchard and then I blinked and everyone had put up their holiday lights and there are only 3 weeks until Christmas. I want to share this recipe with you while apples are still crisp and fresh, and while the possibility of sourcing pink apples still exists (and before I blink again and it’s suddenly March 2019). The beauties that I used in this recipe are an heirloom variety I found locally called the Mountain Rose. The other gorgeous pink apples I’ve seen include Hidden Rose and Pink Pearl.
No matter what you call them, they’re magical to use in baking. Unassumingly light green on the outside, they hide a sweet tart interior that is bright pink. A bonus I discovered while making this tart is that the apples didn’t brown after peeling them – no need to treat them with lemon juice! The pink color remains present after baking, so you don’t lose any of the drama when it comes out of the oven.
Now that I’ve gone on and on about these apples, I want to make sure you know that the tart is delicious and will be beautiful with ANY type of apple that you have on hand. The pink does make for a unique presentation, but don’t feel like you should pass this up because your apples are just the standard apple color inside. The spoke-like arrangement of the slices on the cream cheese filling is a big part of the drama. And a dusting of powdered sugar can’t help but dress it up further.
This tart, which uses the filling from a Land O’ Lakes recipe, combines a shortbread crust, sweet cream cheese filling, and cinnamon sugar tossed apples into a wonderful fall treat that’s worthy of a spot in your holiday baking lineup.
As an aside – I shot this entire recipe using artificial light. Now that we’re nearing the darkest days of the year here in the Pacific Northwest US, it’s still mostly dark when I leave the house for work in the morning, and is most definitely dark by the time I pick up the girls and arrive home. Rather than sacrifice my lunch hour workout to the photography gods, I decided to invest in a setup that allows me the freedom to shoot when I want (ie, when I should probably be sleeping…) It’s been a great experience so far. You can see the gear I’m using here.
Pink Apple Tart with Cream Cheese Filling
- 2 cups white flour
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 10 Tbsp butter, cold (one stick) – cut into cubes
- 4 – 6 Tbsp ice water
CREAM CHEESE FILLING
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 16 oz cream cheese (two 8 oz packages), room temperature
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 cups pink (or other color) apples, peeled, quartered and sliced into crescent shapes
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
- powdered sugar, for dusting on top of tart
- In a large bowl, measure out flour, salt and sugar. Whisk together to ensure ingredients are well distributed and there are no lumps.
- Add cubes of butter and toss well to cover with flour. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it has the texture of coarse cornmeal.
- Add the ice water gradually, kneading it into the dough until it begins to come together. Add just enough water to create a smooth dough – it should not be terribly dry and crumbly, nor should it be gooey or tacky. (I sound a bit like Goldilocks – only add the water until it’s juuuust right. Don’t worry – you’re doing a great job.)
- Form the dough into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
- When you wish roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge and let it warm up slightly, approximately 10-15 minutes.
- On a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of parchment paper), roll the dough into a circle with a diameter of approximately 12 inches – one inch wider than the tart pan on each side. You can place the pan on top of the rolled out dough to double check sizing.
- Roll the dough onto the rolling pin and transfer it to your 10″ tart pan. Using your fingers, gently lift the edge of the dough up while pressing the base into the corner of the pan. You want to make sure the dough is pressed in and does not gap where the tart pan base and side meet.
- With a sharp knife or kitchen scissors, trim the dough so that there is an even overhang all around – about 1 inch. Fold the excess dough out and down and under so that it slides down on the interior side of the pan; you’re basically doubling the thickness of the sides, while hiding the rough edge between the dough and pan.
- Press the dough against the sides to even out and make sure the dough is flush with the pan.
- Using a sharp knife, trim the excess dough by cutting horizontally along the top of the pan. I used the back of a knife blade pressed into the top edge at a slight angle to add a bit of visual interest to the crust.
- Place the pan in the freezer for at least an hour so that it is firm and does not slump during baking.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Crumple a sheet of parchment paper to make it more flexible, then smooth and place in base of crust. Fill with dried beans to keep the dough in place as it bakes).
Bake for 15 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the edges do not begin to brown.
- Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully lift off the parchment paper and beans and place back in the oven for approximately 3 minutes, until just starting to brown slightly.
- Place the crust on a rack to cool completely before adding cream cheese filling and apple topping.
CREAM CHEESE FILLING
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and sugar on medium-low speed until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula to assure the sugar is evenly blended.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate. Add vanilla and mix to combine.
- Pour cream cheese mixture into parbaked tart shell and smooth with an offset spatula.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, gently mix the apple slices with the sugar and spices together with a spatula, folding carefully so that the apples do not break.
- Starting at the middle of the tart and working your way out, place the apples one by one into the cream cheese filling with the narrower interior side of the apple slice facing down into the filling and the wider exterior of the apple facing out. If one end of the apple is wider than the other, place the wider end towards the outside. (Think of the way a flower petal on a daisy is narrow at the center and wider at the outside).
- Place the apple slices in concentric circles until you reach the exterior edge of the tart. See images of the unbaked tart for reference in placement.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the center of the tart is almost set. Cool on a rack.
- Remove the tart from the mold and place on a serving platter. Dress it up with a dusting of powdered sugar: spoon some powdered sugar into a fine-mesh sieve and VERY gently tap it against your hand while holding over the tart.