The Meal Planner

I am no baker. I have been cooking for years and consider myself to have become quite good because I have been so passionate, willing to learn and practice all the time. But baking? It's kind of a once-in-a-blue-moon sort of thing. Translation: I'm not that great at it yet. But it's become my goal to blossom into a great baker, so even though I normally skip right over the dessert portion of cookbooks, I made sure to bookmark this one from Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Dinners. I wanted an impressive Mother's Day dessert to serve to my Mother-in-Law and this looked to fit the bill. I had made homemade dulce de leche in the past and my husband almost dropped dead from "mmmmmm-ing" and "aaaaaaaaaah-ing" so much. I was pretty sure there would be no complaints after dinner about this one.

Recipe from Jamie Oliver - Jamie's Dinners
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Serves 6-8


Shortcrust Pastry:
1 vanilla bean (optional)
5 tbsp butter
1 cup icing sugar
small pinch of salt
2 scant cups of flour
zest of ½ a lemon
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cold milk or water

Filling:
2 397g cans of condensed milk or 2 jars of Merchant Gourmet Dulce de Leche toffee
4 medium-sized cooking apples
2 heaped tbsp icing sugar


Put your unopened tins of condensed milk in a high-sided pan, covered with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer constantly for about 3 hours with a lid on top. It’s very important to remember to keep checking the pan, as you don’t want it to boil dry – otherwise the tins will explode. It will give you the most amazing toffee. Put the tins to one side and allow to cool.

First of all you need to make your pastry. Score down the length of the vanilla bean, if using, and remove the seeds by scraping a knife down the inside of each half (put the empty pod in a container of sugar and in 24 hours you will have your own vanilla sugar). Cream together the butter, icing sugar and salt and then rub in the flour, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and egg yolks – you can do all this by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold milk or water. Pat and gently work the mixture together until you have a ball of dough, then flour it lightly and roll it into a large sausage shape – don’t work the pastry too much otherwise it will become too elastic and chewy, not flaky and short as you want it to be. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge, slice it up and line an 11 inch tart mold with the slivers. Push them together, then tidy up the sides by trimming off any excess. Place the tart mold into the freezer for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the pastry case out of the freezer and bake blind in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Peel and quarter the apples and remove the cores, then slice finely and toss in the icing sugar. Remove the pastry base from the oven and smear the caramel from both tins of condensed milk over it. Place the apples on top and pour any remaining juices over. Cook at the bottom of the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, to give you a crispy base and bubbling toffee over the apples. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Beautiful!


Click here for printable version of Toffee Apple Tart

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THE RESULTS?
Uhhh....okay where to start. The overall flavor of this was quite good. My husband and Mother-in-Law both liked it. But as the baker of this beautiful looking tart I had some issues:

1. The directions are clear about what the mixture should look like right before adding the liquid (like course breadcrumbs), but once you add the water it becomes kind of vague. It was supposed to be a ball of dough, yet not overworked, but mine was still dry and crumbly. It didn't form a dough, so I added another tablespoon of water. Still didn't quite make a ball but if I pushed it together it kinda sorta made a pile so I rolled that up in the plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge, scared that if I kept going I would overwork it. A bit later it was still dry and crumbly so I added another tablespoon of water, reworked it and kinda sorta formed a sausage again. As a novice I needed more directions like, "depending on your climate you may need to add more liquid to get it to hold together" and/or "it should be the consistency of soft dough" or whatever it's supposed to be.

2. The homemade dulce de leche I had made before was simmered for 2 hours and had a wonderful creamy texture. This recipe had a simmering time of 3 hours and when I tried to get it out of the can it didn't pour out. It had stiffened up quite a bit and become more of a gelatinous mixture that came out in blobs with a spoon. Still tasted great, but I think I would have preferred the texture of it being a more creamy toffee.

3. I wasn't overly crazy about the texture of the apples. They weren't soft and juicy like an apple pie, but more chewy and dry. Maybe this is because of the apples being tossed with icing sugar instead of white or brown sugar. Jamie suggests in the book that you could use other fruit, so I might try this with bananas or peaches.

4. I was SO excited about the shortbread crust. I even used a real vanilla bean (for the first time) hoping it would blow my socks off. The finished product was good, and I liked the addition of lemon, but the texture was not crispy and flaky like I had hoped. I noticed when copying the recipe directions from Jamie Oliver's website that there is an extra step that isn't in the book. The website says to bake the crust for 15 minutes before adding the filling, whereas the book says to fill with filling as soon as you pull it from the freezer. I think the tart would have benefited greatly from that extra step so I made sure that it's in the recipe directions above.

5. Next time I wouldn't waste an expensive vanilla bean on the crust, I would instead use a good quality vanilla extract and add with my milk/water to make the dough come together.

All of my issues were minor things, but all combined the dessert fell just a little bit flat for me. I guess I psych myself up for greatness when a recipe has a lot of work, effort and time invested into it. Eaten as it was, it was good, and I wouldn't have refused a piece if someone else had served it to me. But because I knew the time and effort I had put into it I wanted my taste buds to be blown to smithereens. I think if I made it again with just a couple minor adjustments it could be fantastic.

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3 Responses
  1. Tara Says:

    Awww, I'm bummed that this didn't meet your expectations! I've always wanted to make it too, but like you are not as keen on baking as I am on cooking ;) I meant to tell you before that I've also found the directions to be better or more complete on his website when it comes to recipes from this book! I'm guessing the editor may have had one too many the night before he signed off on it and sent it to print ;) What I usually do is check the website before to see if the recipe I'm making is also listed on the site. Another recipe I know that is different on the site is the Spanish Roast Chicken Recipe! I was hoping that the copy I got you had been corrected, seeing as I bought it 4 years after I bought mine! Sorry I didn't tell you sooner! Can't wait to see more reviews :)


  2. Deborah Says:

    Well, despite the small issues, this sure does look delicious!


  3. Tara - that's okay, just more information I can add to my review later right?

    Deborah - Thanks! Since I'm not much of a baker, the beautiful tart pan is courtesy of my friend Shanna who brought it here and forgot it. Lucky me I got to make this beautiful looking tart in it!