There's no arguing with centuries of French diners-but to my taste, the flavor of the apples in the standard brasserie tarte tatin is overpowered by sugar and butter. Cutting down on those two ingredients makes the apples more assertive and brings their inherent sweetness forward. I also substituted maple syrup (grade B, the deep dark kind) for some of the sugar, a natural combination, since apple trees and maple trees often thrive on the same Vermont hillsides. The French tarte tatin is made with Reinette apples. The closest to those in America are Golden Delicious, which, like the Reinette, maintain their structure while baking and are able to absorb flavor. One of the great delights in baking is that moment when you flip the tarte tatin out of the skillet to behold the dark golden color of apples and to breathe in the seductive aroma.
For the flaky pie crust:
Combine the flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse one or two times. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles tiny pebbles. Gradually add the water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Dump the dough onto a work surface and flatten into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 20 minutes or refrigerate overnight.
For the maple whipped cream:1.
Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a standing mixer in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.2.
Return the bowl and whisk to the mixer and pour the cream into the bowl. Whisk on medium-high speed until soft peaks form and the tines of the whisk begin to show in the cream. Add the sugar and whisk for 30 seconds more.3.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, and using a hand whisk, finish whisking to stiff peaks. The whipped cream will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, overnight. Whisk before serving.
For the tarte tatin:1.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.2.
Combine the sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and cook over medium heat, swirling the mixture in the pan until the sugar is dissolved; it will immediately begin to bubble and caramelize around the rim of the pan. Cook until the liquid is mahogany in color and has reduced by half. When it begins to smoke and turns deep dark brown, remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the butter and maple syrup. Swirl it around to coat the bottom of the skillet.3.
Arrange about half the apples in the skillet, flat side down, in concentric circles, packing them tightly. Arrange the remaining apples on top in a second layer, tucking them in tightly (you need at least two layers of apples because they shrink). Place the skillet over medium heat and bring the syrup mixture to a boil. Leave the pan on the heat until the apples begin to release their juices and get a head start cooking, about 7 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat.4.
Dust a work surface and a rolling pin with flour. Roll out the flaky pie crust dough (north, south, east, and west) into a 1/4-inch thick circle. To prevent sticking, sprinkle a bit of flour on the dough as you work and flip the dough over occasionally. On the last roll, roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness and 2 inches larger than the diameter of the cast-iron pan. Roll the dough back onto the rolling pin like a carpet. Unroll the dough over the apples in the skillet. Carefully tuck the edges of the dough in between the apples and the edge of the skillet. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake 30 minutes more. Insert a toothpick into the tarte through an apple slice; if it slides in easily, the tarte is done.5.
Remove from the oven and set aside on the counter, sliding a fork underneath the skillet to allow airflow. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the rim of the tarte, then, wearing oven mitts (the molten caramel can burn you if it escapes), top the skillet with an overturned rimmed plate and flip it over. Remove the skillet. Serve warm with a dollop of maple whipped cream.
For the pastry:
1. Place the flour, salt, baking powder, lemon zest and vanilla seeds in a food processor and pulse for about 15 seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse for a few seconds more, until the mixture has the texture of fresh breadcrumbs. Add the cream cheese and process just until the dough comes together in a ball around the blade (be careful not to over process or the pastry will be tough). Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few seconds, just to bring it together.
2. Divide the pastry in two, cover each half loosely in plastic wrap, then press to flatten into disks. Transfer to the fridge for 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
For the filling:
1. Spread the walnuts out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, set aside to cool, then chop finely and place in a small bowl with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix together and set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the quince paste and lemon juice to form a smooth paste (if your quince paste is very firm, warm it gently over low heat to soften, or heat for 10 seconds in a microwave, until the texture is thick like jam but spreadable, then set aside to cool before using).
3. Take one of the pieces of dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured work surface to form a 9½-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Use a small spatula or the back of a spoon to spread half of the quince paste evenly over the surface and then sprinkle with half of the sugar-nut mixture. Using a sharp knife or a pizza wheel, if you have one, cut the dough as though you are slicing a cake into twelve equal triangles. The best way to get even-sized triangles is to cut it first into quarters, then each quarter into thirds. One at a time, roll each wedge quite tightly, starting from the wide outside edge and working toward the point of the triangle, so that the filling is enclosed. Place them on the lined baking sheets, seam side down, spaced about 1 inch apart. Repeat the rolling process with the remaining disk of dough and filling, then chill the rugelachs in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.
Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.
Lightly brush the tops of the rugelachs with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake for 20–25 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until golden brown all over. Don't worry if some of the filling oozes out; this will add a lovely toffee taste to the edges of the cookies. Remove from the oven and allow to rest on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Reprinted with permission from "The Sweet Spot: Dialing Back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor" by Bill Yosses and Peter Kaminsky, copyright © 2017. Published by Pam Krauss/Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.