The Set Up
The three primary ingredients for the tart: apples, sugar, and butter.
Step One: Sugar
To begin the caramel, white sugar is cooked over heat until brown.
Caramelizing the sugar requires constant stirring and attention. The sugar is added little by little so that it doesn't clump.
The caramel is cooked until it just begins to smoke, then the butter, vanilla extract, and a bit of salt are added. The browned butter gives the finished tart a slightly nutty flavor.
When the caramel begins to pull away from the side of the pan, 1/3 of the apples are added and cooked until they break down.
Corbett lets the first batch of apples sit, untouched, for a while so that the sugar doesn't crystalize and so that the juices from the apples are pulled out and they can be stirred more easily. When these apples are tender, the rest of the apples are added.
Setting Up Contrast
The apples are also added in two rounds because they serve difference purposes in the finished tart. The first soft batch will help hold the tart together. The other, more firm apples, will give the tart its body.
Wondering where the smoker is in Corbett's kitchen? There's a reason you can't see it: it's not a permanent structure. He makes an impromptu smoking device out of a series of pans and some Cling Wrap.
To flavor the smoke, Corbett uses branches of fig wood that he sources from Knoll Farms and a few cinnamon sticks. "I like to know where I'm getting my wood from," Corbett explained. "I don't want just random woodchips."
Fire It Up
And then he pulls out the blowtorch.
The wood is burnt until it smokes, then set under the apples to infuse them with flavor.
The apples and the smoker are wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to keep in the smoke.
Assembling The Tart
The smoked apples are laid in rings that have been lightly greased and lined with foil.
The apples are covered with cold rounds of sable breton dough. The tart is baked upside down like a tarte tatin so that the apples steam the dough a little and make it tender.
The liquid from the apples is reserved. Most is thickened with agar to make a caramel sauce for the plate, as pictured here. The rest is brushed over the freshly baked tarts.
Buttermilk Ice Cream
The tarts are flipped over so that the crust is on the bottom. The top gets a scoop of homemade buttermilk ice cream.
For textural contrast and a little extra sweetness, the tart gets a flurry of crunchy, candy-like hazelnut croquant.
The Finished Tart
Nasturtium flowers are a final garnish.