It’s Sunday, and I have little bites of retro goodness for you right here. These apple butter tarts have layers of flaky pie crust and rich apple butter, they’re topped with sweet meringue swirls, and they’re perfectly portioned for tea time (you all sit down to a proper high tea on the weekends, right?). They’re like aspirational desserts. The original recipe is decades old, but they feel perfect for right now, especially with their (mostly) perfect swirls of meringue on top. They’re just right for sharing with family and friends, so go ahead and make up a batch and sit down with the ones you love for a little tart magic.
This recipe is adapted from my grandmother’s copy of The Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook. You can see the whole series of bakes from this book over here. I’ve had my eye on this recipe for a while, making a test batch months ago and loving the taste but not how they looked. I was ready to come back to them last week, craving some really good pie crust during this dreariest of months and feeling more confident in my meringue piping skills.
The tarts have three components, all made separately and then stacked together and baked until the meringue is perfectly toasted. The pastry crust is a traditional butter crust, flaky and light and wonderfully rich. You make, roll out, cut, and bake the crust first, then layer it with the filling and meringue. To get those perfect circles, you’ll want to use a cutter at least 3 inches in diameter, like this one. If you have a cookie cutter or measuring cup that’s the right size, that would work too. The apple butter filling is mostly apple butter, cooked with a little extra sugar, grated lemon, raisins, and egg yolks to thicken it. The topper is a simple meringue, made from egg whites and sugar. I never get tired of watching egg whites transform into pillowy meringue, and I decided to use a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (similar to the one in this set) to pipe it onto the layered tarts. Ten minutes in the oven and the meringue is lightly toasted, the pastry and apple butter are warm, and you have a perfect winter dessert just waiting to be shown off.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
- 5 to 6 tablespoons cold water
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup apple butter (prepared or homemade)
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- ½ cup raisins
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 egg whites, at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch cream of tartar
- Preheat the oven to 450°F and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- To make the pastry crust, mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of small peas. Pour in the water a tablespoon at a time, mixing gently until most of the dough is moist. Turn the dough out onto the counter and mold it into a ball, then gently roll it out to ⅛” thickness. Cut out 3” circles and place them on the baking sheets.
- Bake the pastry until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. When done, lower the oven temperature to 325°F.
- Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl that fits over a saucepan of boiling water, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add the water, apple butter, lemon rind and raisins. Cook over the water until it has thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the beaten egg yolks and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
- To make the meringue, place 4 room temperature egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl. Using the whisk attachment or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the sugar while still mixing, and beat until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
- Take one of the rounds and spread an even layer of filling over the top. Place another pastry round on top and cover it with another layer of apple butter.
- Cover each pastry stack with meringue, either using a spoon to dollop it or a pastry bag and tip to pipe a swirl, and bake at 325°F for 10 minutes, until the meringue is lightly golden brown.