Breton pastry with salted caramel apples. Photo: Marcel Aucar
When I was a young apprentice, I was always told that you need cool hands to make good pastry. But it was hard to imagine how I could have cool hands while running around a kitchen the temperature of hell. If you can keep your work area cool, it will be much easier to work the pastry without it getting too soft.
Breton pastry is a delicious cross between shortbread and sponge cake, which originated in Brittany in north-western France. It takes less time to make than other pastries because it requires no chilling or resting; just make and bake. There are so many options for topping this versatile biscuit. I can recommend chocolate mousse with roasted figs, crushed summer berries, or lemon verbena panna cotta. This recipe for salted caramel apples is incredibly easy, and the spicy apple flavour works well with the pastry's buttery richness.
Salted caramel apples
2 cups granulated sugar
120g unsalted butter, at room temperature, diced
1 cup thickened cream, at room temperature
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
pinch ground nutmeg
1 tsp fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)
5 granny smith or fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm-thick slices
Pour the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy, two to three-litre saucepan. Heat over medium-high, whisking gently as it begins to melt. The sugar will begin to form clumps, which will melt away as you whisk. When the sugar turns a deep amber colour, add the butter and whisk, being careful to not get burnt if it spits. Add the cream, spices and salt. Mix until well incorporated. Add the apples and cook gently for five minutes or until the fruit has softened. Let cool slightly, then serve on the Breton pastry with a scoop of creme fraiche.
4 egg yolks
175g castor sugar
160g butter, softened
220g plain flour
8g baking powder
Place yolks in a electric mixer fitted with a whisk and begin whisking on high speed. Add the sugar gradually and continue whisking until pale and creamy. In a separate bowl, beat butter until smooth. Turn speed down to low and add the butter to the mixer, one-quarter at a time, whisking well between each addition but not so much as to deflate the yolk mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift in the flour and baking powder. Using a rubber spatula, work the flour in gently until well combined. Scrape the contents of the bowl onto a work surface and bring the dough together, making sure not to overwork it. The pastry is ready to use either to line tart rings or rolled out to make biscuits. Spray 5cm tart rings with canola oil and dust with flour. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Gently press pastry into the ring, pressing it to the edges to form a border around the edge. Bake in a 165C oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the pastries have puffed up and are golden-brown. The pastry shrinks slightly as it cools. Place on a rack to cool before adding topping.
The excess uncooked pastry can be frozen and kept for up to three weeks before being thawed and cooked.