It is difficult to come up with a title for this lovely dessert which doesn't make it sound chef-y and/or fussy. Ms. Wolfert calls it a "Prune and Apple Pastry Cake", but to my mind there isn't anything very cake-like about it. It is really more of a pie. The only thing which makes it a little tricky, is that it requires 30 "prunes in armagnac," which must be made at least 2 weeks earlier. It is terribly pretty, without looking excessively shoppy or done up, it smells heavenly, and is a dreamy combination of flavors and textures. I would feel happily spoilt if someone made one for me.
I have been fooling around with prunes according to PW's recipes in her splendid new edition of The Cooking of Southwest France, for some weeks, so I actually had the prepared prunes in the house. I had some friends coming to dinner, and an otherwise easy menu: Pork Rilettes on toast and some olives (already made), My mother's party chicken dish with roasted veg (easily assembled), salad (ditto), and crusty bread (bought). So I had time to do this tart, and I was not sorry I did.
Whenever I make a PW recipe, I try to follow it exactly the first time. This takes a certain amount of discipline, as ideas come to mind while cooking, and they always seem brilliant at the time. But her recipes are very carefully thought out and planned to lead to particular flavours and textures. I like to get an idea of exactly what something is supposed to taste like, before I vary it in any way. So I tried to adhere as much as possible to her directions, and I was very pleased with the fragrant result, with its crisp, soft, and chewy textures, and exotic not-too-sweet- sweetness.
If you would like to try this, and it is really not terribly hard- just needs a little planning- you will first need to make some prunes in armagnac. The recipe for these (and directions for making prune and armagnac icecream!) can be found on Paula Wolfert's website. You will also need some prepared filo dough, unless you are a strudel maker. PW recommends purchasing a thicker-than-ordinary-filo strudel type dough, if possible. Though I live in a smallish and provincial city, I am lucky enough to live near a Turkish deli (Turquoise, on Murray Ave, here in Pittsburgh), which stocks a thicker "country style" filo-8-10 sheets to a pack. But PW says you can use standard filo too.
This is what you need for the tart (minimally adapted):
apples (I used Pink Ladies) 2 1/2 lbs peeled , cored and sliced
sugar 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsps
lemon zest 2 thin strips
a vanilla bean, split
prunes in armagnac 30, in 5 tbsps of their syrup
melted clarified butter 1/3 cup
orange flower water 1/2 sp
armagnac 2 tsps
strudel or filo leaves, thicker "country style" filo, if available.
confectioner's sugar or sanding sugar
Preheat the oven to 400F. Get a 12 to 15 inch quiche or pizza pan ready, buttering it lightly all over.
First, cook the apples with the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest in a heavy pot, over a low heat, until quite soft. Set aside to cool. Cut up the prunes and put them in a bowl with 1/4 cup of their syrup. In a third bowl,mix 2 tbsps of the butter with the remaining 1 tbsp syrup,1 tbsp sugar, the orange flower water, and the Armagnac. Arrange these bowls in your work area, with the rest of the butter in a fourth bowl with a pastry brush.
Unwrap your filo leaves and cover with a damp towel to keep moist. Brush the first leaf with butter, fold it in half length-wise, and butter both sides. Set it in the pan, with one short end at the center, and the other hanging over the edge. Do the same with the next leaf, and overlap it,and the rest of the leaves, each just slightly over the preceding leaf, moving spiral-fashion round the pan, so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered and flat, and leaves hang over the outside all around. There is an excellent line drawing in the PW book, which is very much clearer than this wordy explanation. The overlap in the center is thick, while on the outside, the leaves just touch.
Now, arrange the cut-up prunes in a 10" circle in the center. Drain the apples, and place on top of the prunes. Sprinkle the orange-flower mixture over the exposed inside of the leaves. Start with the last leaf added and flip the bottom over to the top side. Roll it loosely, like a crepe-paper rose, and set the rosette atop the fruit. continue around in order, setting the rosettes on top pf the fruit loosely, to more or less cover the entire top. Work quickly, and handle the leaves lightly so that they do not dry out, or tear. You can push them around quite easily to cover the surface, so don't feel you have to pull hard on the filo!
Sprinkle and drizzle the remaining butter over all, and dust with the sugar. Set in the oven, bake 12 minutes and turn the heat right down to 350. Cook another 20-30 minutes or so until golden. Set on a rack to cool, and sprinkle with some more sugar. When cooled, sprinkle with a bit of confectioner's or sanding sugar.
This is a pretty pastry, and it smells even better than it looks- very souk-y, fragrant and mellow. Also, it tastes just fine.