From my latest book, this Apple Caramel Tart combines thinly sliced apples nestled into a layer of fennel infused caramel baked in a flaky sweet shortcrust pastry shell. The apples bake to caramelised perfection in my reinvented take on a French classic.
This incredible recipe comes from the pages of my new cookbook 'Simply Sweet Nostalgic Bakes', a book created to share recipes that bring a touch of nostalgia to our lives. Those bakes steeped in personal memories bring you right back to a time and place. Like this French Apple Tart. My French mother would make classic Apple Tart a lot at home and as a kid who loved all things chocolate, I couldn't appreciate its simple elegance. As an adult though, a well made Apple Tart is exquisite and refined.
My aim was to create my own version and replace the apple puree with caramel, not just any old caramel though, fennel infused caramel! Why? Because as far as flavour pairings go, fennel and apple work beautifully in unison, as do apple and caramel. So my intention was to create a tart bringing together these three rockstar ingredients to create this incredible tart.
I'm a long time fan of baking tarts, once you get comfortable with making shortcrust pastry, you'll become a pro yourself. Head to my comprehensive Sweet Short Crust Pastry Guide filled with step by step photos, instructions and hints and tips. The best bit is, you can make the pastry tart shell in advance. I use this recipe for my Plum Frangipane Tart, Lemon Meringue Tarts and my popular Hazelnut Treacle Tart.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Rustic elegance. Traditionally a rustic dessert, fanning the apples in this way produces the most elegant result.
- Pastry & caramel can be made ahead. With three components to this recipe, get ahead by making then blind baking the tart shell and making the fennel caramel the day before.
- Impress your guests. Presenting this beautiful tart will be sure to impress your guests. Serve warm or cold it certainly looks just a lil' bit fancy.
Sweet shortcrust Pastry
- Dry ingredients - Plain (all-purpose) flour, powdered icing sugar and fine salt are needed. Sift the flour and icing sugar to remove any lumps.
- Wet ingredients - unsalted butter, large egg and water. These three ingredients should be cold to ensure the pastry is flakey.
Fennel Caramel Sauce
- Fennel Seeds - In stead of using ground fennel, I prefer to use the seeds, toast them lightly to release their oils and gind them up myself.
- Sugar - I've used granulated white sugar, but caster sugar can also be used.
- Butter - we are adding in flaked sea salt later on, so use unsalted butter. And make sure it is at room temperature before adding, otherwise it won't stir into the caramel once melted.
- Cream - Double (heavy) cream at room temperature. Cold cream will make the caramel split.
- Vanilla Extract & Salt - Even though we are adding the main flavouring of fennel, the vanilla adds a layer of sweetness, whereas the flakes sea salt balances out the caramel sweetness.
- Lemon - Juice from the lemon is definitely needed to stop those apple slices from going brown.
- Apples - Fresh red or green eating apples (as opposed to cooking apples) are best. I don't peel them but you can if you want to.
- Powdered icing sugar - Just a little sprinkle over the tart before baking adds the perfect kiss of sweetness to the aples but also allows the edges of the apples to caramelise.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
When making this Caramel Apple Tart, it has three separate components to bring it together. Firstly, the tart base needs to be blind-baked and then cooled. Secondly, the fennel caramel filling is made and poured into the tart base. Lastly, the decoration, which involves sliced apples layered on top of the caramel before baking. I hope that my process images and useful hints and tips teach you how to make apple tart so that you create a tart Raymond Blanc would be proud of!
Make the sweet short crust pastry tart shell
My Sweet Short Crust Pastry Guide has all the step-by-step photos to make this pastry perfectly. I recommend taking a quick look and read.
1-3. Make the dough. Sift the flour, powdered icing sugar and salt into a large bowl, rub the butter and flour between your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir the beaten egg and water into the flour mixture until it starts to resemble a dough. Use your hands to bring the dough together and shape it into a disc. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
4-5. Prepare the tart tin with the dough. Using a rolling, roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface until it's the thickness of a coin and 30cm (12in) in diameter. (Image 1)Gently lift the dough into your tart tin (Image 2). Use your fingers to push the pastry onto the sides of the tin. (Image 3) Trim off any excess, then refrigerate overnight.
6. Blind Bake. Dock the bottom of the tart with a fork (Image 4), place parchment paper in the bottom, then fill with pie weights. (Image 5) Bake for 15 minutes then remove the paper and pie weights and return back to the oven to continue baking for another 7-10 minutes until the pastry is just starting to turn a light golden brown. (Image 6) You will still see a few areas that don't appear as cooked through - don't worry about this, on the second bake they will dry out fully.
TIPS for making pastry: Use cold ingredients, don't overwork the dough and make sure to rest the dough in the refrigerator (both times!)
Make the fennel caramel
1. Toast then grind fennel. The caramel is infused with fennel, but to ensure that we get the most out of the seeds, they need to be toasted lightly in a small frying pan to release their oils. (Image 7) From there we put some energy into pounding them in a pestle and mortar until they are a fine powder. (Image 8)
2. Heat the sugar until it melts. Don't be intimidated by this part. Add the sugar into your saucepan and slowly allow it to heat up and then melt whilst gradually caramelising. The aim is for a lovely golden amber liquid sugar. To get there though the sugar will become really lumpy as it starts to heat and the crystals melt. (Image 9) You may think you've done it wrong. You can check out my post on How To Make Salted Caramel Sauce where there is plenty of step by step photos so that you can use my visual cues.
Note: The liquid sugar will start to turn golden before all the lumps have melted (Image 10) but keep swirling the pan and keep an eagle eye on it as it can go from golden to burnt pretty quickly. And there's no going back from burnt sugar!
3. Add the butter. Have your whisk to hand, and add in the butter all in one and whisk whisk whisk. When the butter hits the liquid sugar it will instantly bubble up, so take caution, but continue whisking and the bubbling will subside as the butter melts. (Image 11)
4. Add the cream. Now it's time to pour your cream in (Image 12) - again it will bubble up but as before, whisk until it dies down and the cream, butter and sugar are all amalgamated together. Keep stirring the caramel over the heat until it starts to thicken. (Image 13)
5. Add the flavourings. The fragrant ground fennel, vanilla extract and flaked salt get stirred right into the caramel adding sweetness, saltiness and incredible fennel flavouring. (Image 14) The layers of flavour in this fennel caramel are sublime. (Image 15 below) Set it aside to cool down whilst you cut up the apples.
6. Add to the tart shell. Add between ⅔ cup to 1 cup of the caramel into your prepared tart shell and smooth the caramel out. (Image 16) Any leftover can be used to drizzle over the baked tart. You'll just need to pop it in the microwave for a couple of seconds to loosen it a bit.
TIPS: For making caramel: Mise en place is everything, this means getting out all your utensils and ingredients needed beforehand. Stay watching the sugar as it turns from light golden to amber, it can go too far in a heartbeat and burn. Be careful with the bubbling caramel when you add butter and cream. This is why a high sided saucepan works best.
Cut the apples and assemble
1. Slice those apples. To stop the apple slices from browning, squeeze a whole lemon into a bowl. (Image 17) Then every time you cut an apple, add the slices into the bowl and toss in the lemon juice. Such a brilliant trick as it really prevents them from turning. Cut in half, core the apples and slice as thinly as you can. These delicate slices will look fabulous decorated in a swirl on the tart. When all the apples have been cut, toss them through the lemon juice (Image 18)
2. Arrange apple slices. Here comes the fun bit. As you can see in my images, I started from the outside edge (Image 19) and lay the slices onto each other whilst working my way around. It gradually forms a spiral (Image 20) right the way around and into the centre. Dusting with powdered icing sugar right at the end helps to caramelise the edges of the apples and gives them a little sweetness.
TIP: The thinner you cut the apple slices, they'll be easier to spiral in the centre of the tart, plus they'll bake to perfection
3. Bake! Carefully place the tart pan on a baking sheet. The caramel can bubble up in the oven and the baking tray firstly catches any spillovers and secondly makes it way easier to lift the tart out of the oven. The caramel is like liquid gold, it's hot, liquified and moves around when that is freshly baked. As the tart cools, the caramel sets and the tart becomes easier to handle.
Bake the tart for 30 minutes and then set it to one side for 15 minutes to cool. If you find the apple slices have moved a bit when you pull the tart out of the oven, then this is a good time to reposition them (being careful as the caramel is hot!).
SERVE!! This tart can be eaten warm with a scoop of ice cream and an extra drizzle of fennel caramel sauce. Or enjoy it cold, making it perfect to bring to a picnic, prepare in advance for entertaining or take a couple of days to enjoy.
Variations / Substitutions
To be honest, if I want to stay true to this tart, there aren't really any variations that I would do. If you don't fancy adding the fennel to the caramel, then that's no problem, just omit it. A caramel apple tart will taste divine.
The portion of dough used here makes enough for 6 mini tartlets. You can easily divide the caramel and apples into these smaller tart shells and create perfectly portioned Caramel Apple Tartlets.
I know in due course I will give you all a Classic French Apple Tart. I mean how could I not, it's what I grew up on. In the meantime, I adore Michel Roux's take on it using puff pastry as a base, but I also find this article on 'How to cook the perfect apple tart' an interesting read.
- For the shortcrust pastry. Use cold ingredients, don't overwork the dough and refrigerate as recommended
- For the caramel. Mise en place before starting, keep an eye on the sugar to preventing it from burning, and be careful when the butter and cream are added.
- Thinly sliced apples. The thinner you slice the apples, the easier they are to swirl but will also bake right through and soften.
Frequently asked questions
The more traditional way is to use a sweet shortcrust pastry as the buttery, flakey, 'short' pastry lightly sweetened with icing sugar, makes the perfect base for the filling and sliced apples.
If time is not on your side, then I have seen puff pastry used as a base rather than the more traditional pastry.
There are thousands of apple varieties available, so it's finding an apple that you love. Use either green or red-skinned apples and one that has a firm flesh holds its shape when baked (hence why we don't use baking apples)
My preferences are, in no particular order, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Cox Apples.
Yes, of course, you can. As much as I would love you to make your own homemade caramel sauce (it stores superbly!!), I understand that sometimes you need a speedier process. Buy yourself the best quality caramel sauce that you can and you may need to heat it ever so slightly before mixing in the ground fennel and pouring it into the tart shell.
As the tart bakes with the caramel and apples in approximately 30 minutes, this isn't long enough for the pastry to cook right through. You'll be left with partially raw, soggy pastry. By pre-baking the tart shell, you are essentially baking it halfway and finishing it off when baking the apples.
It's all personal preference. The purists will peel the apples for a more refined outcome, but I love the rustic nature that the peel gives to the tart. Plus we can't go past the nutritional benefits of the apple peel! As long as you slice the apples as thinly as you can then the peel with bake until soft and caramelised.
How to store and freeze
To store: This tart can be stored at room temperature. Wrap well in plastic wrap for up to 2 days, or in the fridge for up to 4 days.
To freeze: You can freeze your baked apple caramel tart by firstly allowing it to cool completely. Once cool, set it into the freezer until it's solid, then wrapping it in plastic wrap tightly, and then aluminium foil and freezing for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature.
Tools you’ll need
- Tarte Tin with removeable base (23cm/9-inch): To make that delicious flacky pastry tart shell. If you fancy making tartlets, these are the mini flan tins are perfect.
- High sided saucepan: Making caramel doesn't come without its risk. Using a high sided pan definielt reduces any risk of bubbling caramel spitting over the sides.
- Large Mixing Bowl: When all those beautiful apples are cut, they get tossed in lemon juice to prevent them from browning and a large bowl makes this process easier.
- Simple Sweet Nostalgic Bakes Cookbook!!: My cookbook!! I know I've given you my recipe here, but I have 54 for other fabulous recipes within the pages of my book. I would love you to have your very own copy at home.
More Autumn/Fall seasonal recipes
If you tried this Apple Tart with Fennel Caramel Recipe or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
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Apple Caramel Tart Infused with Fennel
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
- 220 g plain flour (all-purpose)
- 40 g powdered icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 115 g unsalted butter, cold, cubed
- 1 large egg, cold and beaten
- 15-30 mli ice-cold water
Fennel Caramel Sauce
- 12 g fennel seeds
- 200 g granulated sugar
- 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature and chopped
- 160 ml double (heavy) cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 1 lemon, juice
- 570 g apples (about 5)
- 8 g powdered icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
- Rub the butter into the flour. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Add the butter and toss until the cubes are coated. Rub the mixture together between your fingers until it reaches a breadcrumb consistency with a few hazelnut-sized pieces of butter still visible.
- Add egg and water. Make a well in the centre and add the egg. Using a fork, mix the egg into the flour. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the ice-cold water, and use your fingertips to bring the dough together. If the dough isn’t clumping together, add more water sparingly. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured countertop, and use floured hands to shape the dough into a ball, taking care not to overwork it. Flatten slightly into a disc, and wrap well in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to let the dough rest.
- Bring the dough together and refrigerate. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured countertop, and use floured hands to shape the dough into a ball, taking care not to overwork it. Flatten slightly into a disc, and wrap well in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to let the dough rest.
- Roll out dough. Remove the chilled dough disc from the fridge and set it aside on your countertop for 15 minutes or so to allow the dough to warm up slightly so it’s easier to roll out. Trying to roll dough that is too cold will cause the edges to crack. To roll out, lightly flour your countertop and rolling pin, and using firm, even strokes, roll from the centre outward, turning the dough a quarter turn every few strokes. Roll the dough out to the thickness of a coin (⅛-inch (3-mm) thick) and into a 12-inch (30-cm) circle.
- Prepare dough in the tart tin. Flour the base of a 9-inch (23-cm) shallow fluted tart pan with a removable base, and gently lift the dough and place it into the prepared pan. Use your fingers to push the dough up the sides of the pan and into the grooves. Using a sharp knife, trim off the excess dough from the rim. Refrigerate the prepared tart shell for at least 1 hour to allow the dough to relax further. (My preference is to leave the shell overnight in the fridge and continue with the recipe the next day. If you do this, cover it well in plastic wrap to ensure that the dough doesn’t dry out.)
- Blind bake. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Once the dough is chilled, prick the tart base all over with a fork, and then line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights all the way up the sides. Blind bake for 15 minutes, and then remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Return the tart back to the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the base is dry and a light golden colour. Remove from the oven, and leave the tart shell to cool whilst you make the caramel and prepare the filling.
Fennel Caramel Sauce
- Toast the grind fennel seeds. In a small skillet over low heat, lightly toast the fennel seeds. Once fragrant and lightly browned, add to a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder. Set aside.
- Heat the sugar until it melts. In a high-sided nonstick saucepan, heat the sugar over medium heat, stirring often. Once the sugar is in liquid form, stop stirring and just swirl the liquid sugar whilst the colour changes to a lovely amber colour. Keep an eagle eye on it at this stage as it can turn to burnt sugar very quickly.
- Add the butter. Carefully add the butter in one go. It will bubble up but whisk continuously until it has thoroughly melted. Then remove from the heat.
- Add the cream. Pour in the cream, but be careful as it will bubble up again, but keep whisking and the bubbling will die down. Return it to medium heat, stirring occasionally, so that the caramel can thicken. This takes around 5 minutes.
- Add the flavourings. Remove from the heat, stir in the ground fennel seeds (add half if you want a more subtle flavour), vanilla extract and salt, and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- Add to the tart shell. Pour 1 cup (240 ml) into the bottom of the tart shell and smooth out flat. Pour any remaining caramel into a small serving dish and serve alongside the tart.
Apple filling and assembly
- Slice apples. To make the apple filling and assemble the tart, add the lemon juice to a large bowl. Cut the apples in half through the core. Remove the core with a sharp knife or melon baller. Slice the apple crossways as thinly as you can. An option is to use a mandoline for this part. Discard (or eat!) the top and bottom of the apple cheeks. Add the apple slices to the bowl and gently toss to prevent them from browning.
- Arrange apple slices. Arrange the apple slices into the tart shell in any pattern you desire. I started on the outside of the tart shell and laid them overlapping, continuing in a spiral until the centre of the tart. Use your fingers to reposition any if necessary. The thinner the slices, the easier it will be to spiral in the centre. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
- Bake. Place the tart onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the caramel is bubbling, the apples have softened and the apple edges have caramelized. Cover the edges with foil if the tart shell is browning too quickly and continue to bake. Be careful when removing the tart from the oven as the caramel will be molten hot and melted to a liquid and the apple slices can slide around. Allow the tart to cool in the tart pan for 15 minutes, repositioning any slices that may have moved when taking the tart out of the oven. After 15 minutes, carefully remove the tart from the pan and slide it onto a serving plate. Serve warm with any remaining caramel sauce drizzled on top and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.