While I love the caramel + apple flavor combination, I’ve never been a giant fan of caramel apples themselves. They’re a lot of fun to make with the kids but come time to eat them, I feel like I’m actually bobbing for the apples. Having a stick to hold just doesn’t help me! I decided this year I wanted to come up with some kind of desert that would really hit the caramel apple flavor, but was a little easier to eat. And maybe a bit more grown up then an apple on a stick?
I played with a caramel apple cake for a while, but I have to admit all the caramel kept making the cake fall apart. (If you’re going to have caramel, you might has well have a lot of it right?) After a few attempts I moved on to the idea of a tart. While the cake may yet happen some day, the tart was inspired move. I turned to my favorite shortbread like tart crust which is sturdy enough to hold not only the apples, but a whole lot of that gooey caramel.
Just for the fun of it I also decided to try a new caramel recipe this time around. While I have always loved my old standard, this new version, adapted from Serious Eats, turned out literally the best caramel I have every made, possibly even the best caramel I have ever tasted. Shockingly, it doesn’t even have butter in it. Just sugar, water, a splash of juice from the apples (my addition), vanilla, and cream. But seriously, don’t doubt the lack of butter, it’s outstanding. I probably will never bother with another caramel recipe again. The other thing about this caramel that’s kind of fun, is if you prep ahead right, you can make one batch of caramel to make the caramel sauce that’s covering the apples, a slightly harder caramel to coat a caramel apple to decorate the center top of the tart, and some pretty little chewy caramel bits for additional decorations.
I will admit this recipe looks super long, but don’t be intimidated, none of the steps are actually all that hard. A lot of them are just extra descriptive to help with making the decorations for the top of the tart. Though, if you want to simplify things skip the decorations and just pour the filling into the tart as is. This tart is an October showstopper either way!
Caramel Apple Tart
- 6-8 large apples Granny Smith or Honeycrisp both work well in this recipe. If you intend to dip an apple to decorate the top of the tart make sure you have an addional apple.
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Peel and slice apples into thin slices. Place the apples in a bowl, and mix with one 1/4 cup of sugar. Let everything sit for about an hour. The sugar will draw juice from the apples, which will accumulate in the bottom of the bowl. Drain off this juice and reserve for making the caramel. Be sure to drain the apples well because too much jucie will cause the caramel sauce to become runny after the tart is asseumbled.
Cream together 1 and 1/2 sticks butter and 1/3 cup of sugar using either an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer. Add the egg, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Then blend in throughly using the mixer. Add the 2 and 1/4 cups of flour about a half cup at a time and mix, making sure all the flour is well incorporated before adding the next half cup. When all the flour has been incorporated, use your hands to shape the dough into a disk. Wrap the disk in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375*. Prepare the tart pan by lining the bottom with a ciricle of parchment paper and greasing with spray oil or butter and set aside.
Remove the disk of dough from the fridge. Lightly flour your work surface and place the dough in the middle. Use a rolling pin to roll the disk of dough out into an 11 inch circle.
Gently lift the dough and loosely drape it in the tart pan. Gently adjust the sides allowing the crust to fall into to the bottom of the tart pan. Then gently press the sides of the crust into the pan. Use the edge of the pan to remove any extra dough by pressing down on the edges with a flat hand. If you end up with any holes the dough removed from the edge can be used to patch. After that discard any extra dough or save it for a different project.
Using a fork prick all over the bottom of the crust. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the crust and cover with pie weights. Bake the crust until golden, 35-40 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes, then remove the pie weights, and take the crust out from the pan and set on a wire rack or plate. Cool the crust completely before filling.
Prepare for Making Caramel Decorations
If you are not going to make decorations for the top of the tart skip these steps. If you do plan to dip an apple and make decorations for the top of the tart, prepare the materals needed for the decorations before starting the caramel.
Scrub your apple using a sponge to remove any wax coating it may have. Remove the stem. Add the stick to the apple.
Line a baking sheet with piece of parchment paper or a silpat.
Set both the apple and the baking sheet, along with a small bowl, and a small metal spoon, somewhere near where you will be working with the caramel. You will need quick access to all these items when it is time.
In a medium steel pot or saucepan, add the reserved jucie from the apples, 1/2 cup of water, 1 and 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Turn on the stove to medium heat allowing the ingreedents to melt together. Stir gently with a fork until syrup comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and continute to cook the syrup until it is a light to medium amber.
Immediately add the cup of cream and teaspoon of vanilla, stiring constantly with a rubber spatula to stop the foam. Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue stirring until the foam has subsided.
Simmer on low until caramel registers 250°F on a candy thermometer. Pour the caramel into the bowl with apples and mix to coat the apples. If you intend to dip an apple reserve about 1/4 of the caramel in the pot to continue cooking.
Set the bowl with the apples aside. Allow the caramel that is mixed into the apples to cool some before assembling the tart.
Making the Tart Decorations
Continue cooking the reserved caramel on low until it reaches 275°F and then pour off enough of the caramel into the small bowl to dip the apple. Return the pot to the stove and continue cooking it on low.
Allow the caramel in the bowl to cool slightly and then dip the prepaired apple in the caramel. You may want to dip the apple more then once to coat it well. If the caramel is still too hot it will not stick well to the apple. Place the dipped apple on the prepaired baking sheet to cool.
Be sure to watch the remaining caramel on the stove while dipping the apple. Continue cooking the caramel on low until it reaches 300°F. Remove the caramel from the heat. Use a small metal spoon to drizzle the remaining caramel over the prepaired baking sheet in pretty patterns. It will harden into whatever shape you make.
Transfer the baking sheet with caramel to the fride to finish cooling.
By the time you have finished the decorations for the tart the apples and carmel suace shout be cool enough to arrange in the crust. Arrange in a pretty pattern or just pour the apples into the crust. Use a spatula to scooop any carmel left in the apple bowls over the apples. When the dipped apple and other decorations are fully cool they can be added to the tart. To remove the drizzled decorations from the parchment paper or silpat lift up the parchment paper and they will peel off. Arrange the decorations as desired.
Refrigerate the finished tart until ready to serve.
Caramel Recipe adapted from Serious Eats, Tart Crust Adapted from Ruth Reichel’s My Kitchen Year.