Swing the axe
In the hour before daylight
Note the sparks
That attend to the blade
— Jeffrey Foucault, Dishes
If I look over the top of my laptop screen, through raindrop-pebbled window panes, grass fronds feather sideways and tree branches flail against a backdrop of slate cloud curtains nestled among mountain layers. Copper leaves scud down the street and cold presses through double-paned windows. It’s only October, but we’ve already woken to snow several times, once deep enough to leave a trail of ice-encrusted footprints. When the winds calm enough to permit it, smoke curls upward from chimneys and infuses the air with redolent spice, an incense transportive in time and space.
Woodsmoke is autumn, and winter, and warmth that permeates the chill. It is ritual. It is gathering. At a fundamental level, it is part of what it means to be human.
The house in which I live has a gas fireplace. It turns on with the flick of a switch. It generates heat, to be sure, and sits in a lovely broken stone fireplace. Yet even in a climate as harsh as Montana’s, I rarely use it.
It’s fire without woodsmoke.
It is fire to the eye, but it does not smell like fire.
It is fire to the skin, but it does not sound like fire.
It does not require tending like a fire.
There is a disconnect. A divorce. A distance from what fire should be, in an evolutionary sense. Buried deep in our DNA there is a memory of fire, and it is a multi-sensory memory. When some of those senses aren’t activated, there is a hollowness, an emptiness; a knowledge that something is missing–even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.
A gas fireplace is convenient, and yet …
Woodsmoke kindles the genetic memory. Revives it from dormancy and reminds us of the source of the term “firepower.” Woodsmoke connects us, to nature and to forces beyond the human.
To build a fire requires observance.
It is a rite. One wreathed in woodsmoke.
Apple Buckwheat Tart with Maple Butter Caramel
The season of woodsmoke coincides with the season of baking. They both warm hearth and home, heart and belly. This apple buckwheat tart was inspired by and adapted from a recipe from Alanna Taylor-Tobin’s (a.k.a. The Bojon Gourmet) “Alternative Baker” cookbook (a must-have for gluten-free bakers–her recipes are delicious!). I didn’t have all the ingredients for her apple chestnut tart on hand, but necessity is the mother of invention and I went with what I had–with this delicious result. I hope you enjoy it!
- 1/2 C (60 g) almond flour
- 1/2 C (80 g) sweet rice (Mochiko) flour
- 1/2 C (55 g) buckwheat flour
- 2 T (12 g) tapioca flour
- 1/4 C (50 g) granulated cane sugar
- 3/8 t fine sea salt
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 8 T (115 g) unsalted butter (cold)
- 1 3/4 lb (800 g) tart apples (the exact number of apples will depend on their size; basically, you want enough to slice and fan to fill the inside of your tart shell).
- 2 T (25 g) granulated cane sugar
- 1/2 t ground cinnamon
- 3 T (42 g) unsalted butter
Maple Butter Caramel Ingredients:
- 1/4 C real maple syrup
- 1 T unsalted butter
- 1/2 t vanilla extract
- sea salt (to taste)
To Make the Crust:
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Sift together the almond flour, sweet rice flour, buckwheat flour, tapioca flour, sugar, and salt.
- Drizzle the vanilla extract over the flour mixture.
- Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and scatter them over the flour mixture. Work the butter into the flour with your hands or a pastry cutter until it is well-distributed and the mixture comes together as a crumbly dough. (Alternately, you can use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer to work the butter in for several minutes.)
- Pour the crust dough into a 9″ round tart pan and press it evenly up the sides and across the bottom of the pan.
- Prick the bottom of the tart crust multiple times with a fork.
- Place the crust into the freezer while you prepare the apples (or overnight).
To Prepare the Filling:
- Peel the apples, halve them, and cut out the cores (leaving the halves intact).
- Place the halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet and thinly slice them lengthwise. Set the curved end pieces aside to enjoy raw.
- Take the tart crust out of the freezer and place on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet (to catch drips in the oven).
- Fan the apple slices along themselves lengthwise. Pick up the fan in pieces and gently place them in concentric rings in the tart shell, starting from the outside and working your way in. The number of rings you will have depends on the size of your apples.
- Mix together the sugar and cinnamon.
- Sprinkle the apples with the cinnamon sugar and dot with butter.
- Bake the tart for 60-70 minutes until the fruit is bubbly and the crust is golden. Begin checking the crust after about 45 minutes to ensure it doesn’t turn too dark. If it is getting dark but the fruit needs more cook time, use a pie crust shield or aluminum foil to gently cover the crust to prevent more browning.
- Cool for about an hour.
To Prepare the Maple Butter Caramel (inspiration provided by Whole Lifestyle Nutrition):
- Place the maple syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Let boil for one minute.
- Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter, vanilla, and sea salt to taste.
- Brush over the cooled tart.
- Enjoy as is or a la mode!
Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 2-3 days.