Croustade with apples and Armagnac-soaked prunes
Adapted from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France.
The prunes used in this recipe are so delicious, you may want to make twice as much of them – they’re fabulous served over vanilla ice cream.
2 chamomile tea bags
25 pitted prunes
3/4 cup plus 2/3 cup sugar, divided
2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons Armagnac, divided
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thickly sliced
2 strips orange zest
1 moist, plump vanilla bean, split
1/3 cup butter, melted
11 or 12 sheets of filo dough
Powdered sugar for garnish
1. The afternoon or evening before you plan to make the croustade, prepare the prunes. Brew two cups of chamomile tea, place the prunes in a small heat-proof bowl, pour the tea over them and let them soak for about two hours, until soft. Drain them, dry with paper towels and place them in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, combine one-half cup of the sugar with one-fourth cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Boil undisturbed for two minutes, then cool slightly. Pour the syrup over the prunes, then add two-thirds cup Armagnac to cover. Stir to combine, and push the prunes down so they’re submerged. (Add a little more Armagnac, if necessary.) Let the prunes soak, unrefrigerated, overnight.
2. When you’re ready to make the croustade, place the apples in a large saucepan, add two-thirds cup sugar and the orange zest. Use the tip of a small knife to scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean onto the apples, then drop in the pod. Stir gently to combine. Cover and cook over low heat until the apples are soft (but not mushy), about 20 to 25 minutes. (Check them after 20 minutes; you really don’t want them to get mushy.) Let cool.
3. Drain the prunes, reserving the liquid. Cut them into quarters, place in a bowl and pour one-fourth cup of the liquid over them. Mix two tablespoons of the melted butter with one tablespoon sugar, one tablespoon of the remaining Armagnac-prune syrup and two teaspoons Armagnac. Set aside.
4. Two to three hours before serving, place a baking sheet on the lowest oven rack and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush a 13- to 15-inch round pan (such as a pizza pan) with 1 tablespoon of melted butter.
5. Unroll the sheets of filo in front of you and cover with a damp towel. Working quickly so the pastry doesn’t dry out, brush the top leaf lightly with melted butter. Fold it in half lengthwise, and brush each side lightly with butter. Place one short end of the folded sheet in the center of the pan, letting the sheet hang over the side of the pan. Repeat with the remaining leaves, arranging them so that they look like the spokes of a wheel (with the inner ends stacked in a hub and the outer ends barely touching).
6. Lightly sprinkle some of the butter-Armagnac mixture over the dough that extends over the edge of the pan. Place the prunes in a six 1/2 -inch circle in the center of the pastry. Drain the apples, remove the vanilla pod and orange zest and place the apples on top of the prunes.
7. To enclose the filling, start with the last sheet placed on the pan. Lift up the outer end and bring it toward the center, twisting the piece once so that the underside faces you. Roll up the end of the strip loosely to form a cup-shaped “rose” and set it flat on the filling, pressing lightly so it adheres. Repeat with the remaining leaves, placing the flowers close together to cover the top of the cake. Don’t worry if a little filling shows through, and don’t worry if it’s messy-looking. Patch with additional filo if necessary. Sprinkle the top lightly with the remaining butter-Armagnac mixture, drizzle with the remaining butter and dust with one tablespoon of the sugar.
8. Place the pan in the oven on the hot baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 20 to 25 minutes longer, or until the croustade is golden and crisp. Slide it onto a wire rack. Sprinkle the final two tablespoons of sugar over the top, and let it cool to lukewarm. Just before serving, dust it with powdered sugar. Serve the same day it is made.