It’s the first week of the fasting month, Ramadan, here in Singapore, and as always, baking takes a step back in my household during this month, while I concede to my kitchen maestro of a mother who fills up the dining table with dishes, both sweet and savoury.
I remember that even in my younger years, I’ve always marvelled at the fact that there will be a spread during iftar, our session for breaking fast, and it would almost always be executed single-handedly by the mother. And even in my half-eyed grogginess of waking up around 4 in the morning for our pre-dawn meal, sahur (suhoor), a part of me looks forward to seeing a fresh new array of dishes on the table, along with the six different warm glasses lined up by the kitchen counter (the drink of the morning would alternate between tea and Milo, a malted chocolate drink) waiting for my siblings and I.
I pretty much have always thought that my mother was quite the superhero.
Until now, that is.
Helping my mother out in the kitchen, I’ve learnt that whipping up dishes for the two meals requires more planning than our normal every day meals. In Ramadan, everything is done with such an impeccable precision that I’m actually left wondering if she already has had the whole month’s menu organised in her mental Excel worksheet. And yes, she has specific persons in mind when she comes up with the menu.
For iftar, there is always a choice between warm rice, and The Noodles of The Day (my mother takes great care in non-repetition), considering that some of us prefer a lighter meal with a small serving of noodles, while others prefer a full meal with rice. Accompanying the rice will be a couple of main dishes, usually some meat and vegetables, which will also double up as sides to those having their noodles.
For sahur, there will always be at least one new dish, usually some clear vegetable soup to sort of drown your rice in. It’s the most important meal to start the day with, so rice it has to be. The warm soup will provide a little more fluid for those too sleepy to drink that extra glass of water you’ll need to keep you hydrated for the day ahead. The spicier/seafood dishes of yesterday will also be replaced in consideration of those with a weaker stomach.
Most importantly, both meals have been planned such that there is minimum leftover (if any) and yet, the mains or appetisers for iftar will be sufficient enough to give some portions over to the neighbours and near relatives just before the call of breaking fast.
With all of those nitty-gritty details my mother takes into consideration and perfectly executes in our meals, now I pretty much believe she has always been, and will always be, a superhero.
While this apple tart is merely a smidgen of a semblance of what my mother brings to the table, this is my tribute to her. You see, my mother doesn’t like apples, and never eats them by choice. About the only times I’ll ever see her eating apples would be in my bakes, but not being a fan of cinnamon, she’d always detect the faintest amount of cinnamon, smile, and ask me to reduce the amount the next time. Just like my dad, however, she’s a fan of pastries;– preferably simple plain ones, without the creme patissiere nor any whipped cream.
So this was for her. A wonderfully flaky tart filled with concentric rows of cascading thinly sliced tart apples tinged with just a bit of cinnamon sugar, and glazed with a lovely aromatic apple syrup accentuating the natural apple flavour. She barely detected the cinnamon in this, and fell in love with the lovely design and the gorgeous texture of the tart dough, requesting I make another soon, in between forkfuls.
For all that she’s done, I would be honoured to make this every single day.
Alice Water’s Apple Tart
(adapted from here)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons (80g) butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water
4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (reserve the cores and peels for glaze)
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Apple Syrup Glaze
1/2 cup sugar
cores and peels of apples
Making the dough:
- Mix flour and sugar in a large bowl.
- Rub in the butter into the flour-sugar mixture, until it resembles large crumbs.
- Add in the water, one tablespoon each time, mixing with your fingers, until you are able to roll the dough into a ball. (Note: You may not need to use all 3 1/2 tbsp water.)
- Flatten the dough into a 4-inch-thick disk and refrigerate for at least 30mins.
Assembling the tart:
- Remove and place the dough on a lightly floured surface; roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
- Place dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan.
- Preheat oven to 200C.
- Arrange the sliced apples by overlapping the slices on the dough in a circle. Continue inward until you reach the center.
- Brush melted butter over apples and onto dough edge.
- Sprinkle the sugar all over the apples.
- Bake for about 45 mins, or until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown.
- Remove from the oven, and let cool for 15mins before brushing the glaze over the tart.
Making the glaze:
Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through a sieve.