Friday, 20 September 2013

Spices: apple and vanilla tarte tatin... and surrendering

Photography by Graemetek / Props by Piccolo Pear / The model with veiny hands... moi!

"There is milk and cream warming in the pan. Twelve fresh golden egg yolks glisten in a bowl. He adds sugar to the eggs and whisks them rapidly until the mix lightens, not quite white. The pan comes off the flame and he scrapes the gleaming black treasure into the mixture, along with the eviscerated pods. They are limp. Now the eggs and sugar join the liquid. Back to the heat it goes and he begins to stir, stopping the sugar from catching on the base of the pan. Now and then the beans appear, like logs in a flood, dark flecks of seed and flesh speckling the swirling yellow flow...

"It is the story of a Mexican orchid, and the scent of an Indian Ocean Island." 
Vanilla by Tim Ecott

Life is intriguing. I'm finding it especially intriguing right now. I'm intrigued at dead ends when I expected there to be much to thrill me, at seemingly meaningless side comments that take me down expanding, ever-meandering paths and at the power of surrendering.

I'm letting go of expectations and working with what I have right now. Maybe I won't be a food writer forever. Or a blogger. Maybe I'm meant to inspire a love of food in person rather than through typed words on the screen. I don't know. Big crossroads ahead.

I do know, though, that we still need to eat, want so much to eat. I have organic butter, luscious eggs, handmade butter puff pastry and too many apples in the fruit bowl, so I make an apple tart with custard. I have in my cupboard a slender glass bottle of Heilala vanilla that I can't stop using. I usually add a dash of vanilla extract to my granola mix, our pancakes, cake batters and our smoothies. With this rather special vanilla, I make a rather special apple and vanilla tarte tatin, with custard full of the dark, sticky seeds of the pod.

As I unroll the sheet of butter puff, I don't wonder if anyone will like what I write. Instead, I hum a line from James Morrison's You Give Me Something... This could be nothing, but I'm willing to give it a try. As I peel apples, I don't think about what hinges on Graeme taking these pictures, or what it looks like to talk vanilla and beautiful homewares. I just ask Graeme to take the pictures because I want to hold the board. This is damn good vanilla and I've always supported those who grow and raise our food with the bigger picture in mind. I pay weekly visits to this shop because it draws me in every time and though I would love to take home their platters, boards and vintage French pieces, I can't. Not yet. So I do the next best thing. I borrow, take home and take their pictures.

I don't care that I should be preparing dinner instead of frothing butter and sugar in a pan. I don't worry that Luca comes into the room wanting to be the second photographer, poking his fingers at the glazed apples. Kian wakes from his nap and everyone wants a snack. Dinner is still just a thought in my head. How about a sticky apple tarte tatin with custard, everyone, and we'll think about dinner later? And if appetites are ruined, well who cares?

So that's what we did. Surrendering on a Sunday afternoon to cake at dinnertime. No explosive toddler rages; just harmony around the table (for a change). Mealtimes are taking on a very different feel around here.

Surrendering to doing what feels right. No expectations (of toddlers or indeed, life!). Letting go is such a nice way to live.

Apple and vanilla tarte tatin with vanilla custard
75g caster sugar (I used raw)
75g butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 apples, peeled, halved and quartered
375g sheet all-butter puff pastry (I used CarĂªme)

For the custard
300ml pouring cream 
300ml full-fat milk
1 vanilla pod, slit open
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp cornflour
50g caster sugar

Tip the sugar and butter into an ovenproof frying pan and heat until bubbling. Stir the sauce for a few minutes until it starts to separate and the sugar caramelises. Add the vanilla extract, then the apples and toss them around in the sauce. Cook for 10 mins, turning occasionally, until the apples soften and take on a toffee colour. Preheat the oven to 200C. Arrange the apple quarters cut-side up in the pan, prick the pastry sheet all over with a fork, then lay the pastry over the top, tucking the edges and corners down the side of the pan. Bake in the oven for 20-30 mins until risen and golden. 

Meanwhile, for the custard, pour the cream and milk into a pan. Scrape out the vanilla seeds and add them along with the pod. In a bowl, whisk the yolks, cornflour and sugar together. Heat the cream and milk gently, until it comes almost to the boil, then pour onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Pour the mixture back into the pan over a low heat. Keep stirring (use an electric mixer here) and cook, gently, for at least 10 mins until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pod at the end (rinse and dry and use to make vanilla sugar).

Leave the tart to stand for 5-10 mins before running a knife around the pastry to loosen the tart, and inverting it onto a plate. Serve with the vanilla-flecked custard.


Vintage French linen half apron $54; Urban cartel platter, fine bone china made in Melbourne $54; Robert Gordon ceramic pourer $14; Wooden cheese/bread board $59. Kindly from Piccolo Pear.

I used Heilala vanilla extract for the tart, and a whole vanilla pod (bean) for the custard. I'm delighted to have discovered this family-run business which grows Asia Pacific's richest grade of vanilla on a pristine organic plantation in Vava'u, Tonga.

Come back in the next day or two for a Heilala vanilla giveaway!


  1. I missed you! Beautiful post. Now send a slice of that tarte my way (don't forget the custard!) xxx

  2. "If music be the food of life, play on". Bake on! x

  3. Lovely photos and I've bookmarked the recipe - it looks divine! I spent eighteen months volunteering in Tonga (so long ago I don't want to remember!) and it brings back so many memories! I'll definitely be getting my hands on some of the vanilla!

  4. Yay for you! I'm learning to do this too, surrender to the feeling of flow rather than the endless dry thoughts of what should be happening (nutritious vegetable dinners etc.) it's a juicier way to be. I love Piccolo Pear too, I want to touch everything in there. And your tart looks delicious x

    1. A juicier way to be.... Yes you worded it so much better. x

  5. I love Piccolo Pear and looked at those very boards on Saturday. Christmas wish list perhaps.
    Ah, my dear, life's ebbs and flows. Life throws up curve balls doesn't it? Do tell, food writing? Has the industry turned that much?


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