I started quite the debate this summer with two ladies in a little French village in the Ariège region over a very traditional dessert from the area: the croustade. It is so regional that they have it at just about every local event and even have an oven in the Tabac store in order to make it on a daily basis for the townspeople.
The croustade is very similar to an apple turnover, which you might recognize in the French boulangeries as chausson aux pommes. The big difference between this and the croustade though is that they like to add a little special touch: sliced apples to give the filling a different texture and a good helping of vanilla sugar on top.
I was in the area for the summer working at Château de Gudanes and thought I’d take it on for one such event, with the help of my adopted French grandmother Monique, who is from the local village. I just didn’t know I’d cause a controversy…
A croustade is rather easy to make with just four components: puff pastry, apple purée, sliced apples, and vanilla sugar.
I’d made croustades a couple of times in the past but this particular time, I really had an itch to make puff pastry from scratch. I guess I was up for a challenge? What I didn’t know was how this was going to be the breaking point, which would cause a couple eyebrows to be raised from our guests from the local village. In any case, before Monique arrived, I made one batch, thinking it was plenty for what we needed, or maybe I had just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
I whipped up some homemade applesauce using a mixture of different apples from the market. These had been peeled, roughly chopped, and thrown in a pot with a little bit of water, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and some lemon zest. I held onto a couple of apples to slice and put on top of the purée.
Monique showed up and we started baking together – well sort of. After much playful chiding that I was not quite rolling the puff pastry thin enough (whoosh, I’d lost the rolling pin!), the puff was rolled out to a massive rectangle, large enough to fit a big baking sheet and on top, we spread the puree and arranged the sliced apples.
Now here’s where I went wrong
Traditionally, you place another rolled-out piece of puff pastry on top and make a couple of cuts in it for the steam to escape like you would for an apple pie. Finding out we were lacking in the puff pastry department, Monique resourcefully cut long slices of puff from the sides that had not been doused in apple puree and artfully placed them on top. They were then brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with vanilla sugar. I thought we were out of the woods and sighed a breath of relief.
Into the oven it went and about an hour later we took out a stunning dessert with browned puff pastry glistening with sugar crystals and the apple puree bubbling away.
Le voila! We had dinner together with Monique’s longtime friend as well as a few other guests and then I ceremoniously brought out the regional dessert at the end to much “oohing and awing.” But not by Monique’s friend.
She turned to Monique and very clearly said, “Well that is not a croustade! That is a tarte aux pommes!”
I might have unintentionally (and might I add with the help of Monique) changed the appearance of the village dessert to resemble more of a large tart! All be it a good tart!
Making the croustade or tarte aux pommes
You can make it one of two ways – buying all the ingredients and then rather quickly (and effortlessly!) putting them together to amaze and awe any crowd, or if you have a bit of time, all of the elements can be made from scratch too. The beauty of the recipe is that you can make it any size you like as it just bakes flat on a baking tray, so it can easily be prepared to be for just 2 people or a group of 10 depending on how big you make it.
- puff pastry
- apple purée
- sliced apples
- vanilla sugar
1. I whipped up some homemade applesauce using a mixture of different apples from the market. Here’s an easy recipe. If you make a little bit too much, it’s great to just have on its own or with yogurt and a bit of granola for a snack.
2. To make homemade puff pastry, here’s a good link to learn how. It takes a bit of time but boy is it good!
3. To assemble, roll out one sheet of the puff pastry to a 2-3mm thickness. Spread on the applesauce leaving about a 2cm border around the edge. Cover the applesauce completely with sliced apples, overlapping in rows. They can be a mixture of apples – and no need to peel them.
4. Now, here’s when you decide if you are making a croustade or a tarte aux pommes! For the croustade, put a bit of egg wash on the border, roll out another sheet of puff pastry and place it on top crimping the sides to encase the filling. Cut a few slits on top to let the steam escape. For the tarte, cut a few stripes of thinly rolled puff pastry and place them on top in any design you like.
5. For both the tarte and the croustade, the next step would be to brush egg wash on top and then sprinkle with vanilla sugar.
6. Bake at 190C for about 30 minutes to an hour. There is a wide range in the baking time because this entirely depends on the size. Also if you are making the croustade, additional time is necessary for the top puff pastry to bake. The most important thing to do is to watch for the puff pastry to be nicely browned and the filling to be bubbling away.
No matter what you call it, the dessert is delicious, adaptable in size, and very easy to make. Just remember, puff pastry on top and bottom: croustade. Puff pastry just on the bottom: tarte; but both are good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!