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The art of tarts 

Indulge in a European tradition

Guglhupf's classic French Apple Tart is a favorite at the Durham bakery.

Photo by Jim White

Guglhupf's classic French Apple Tart is a favorite at the Durham bakery.

What is a guglhupf?

Guglhupf is a coffee cake baked in a traditional mold by the same name, the origin of which is uncertain. The cake is usually yeast-raised, flavored with citrus peel and dried fruits, and served with coffee and tea as a morning or afternoon treat.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving was balmy, warm and sunny, even more so in the walled art garden and patio dining area hugging the Guglhupf Bakery & Patisserie in Durham. In the bustling bakery section, surrounded by glass-cased tarts, guglhupf cakes, handmade breads and other treats, I met owner Claudia Cooper and pastry chef Antonia Manzi for coffee and a long chat.

Inside and out, the place was full of life, a vibrant coffee bar scene packed with families, students and couples enjoying morning coffee, breakfast breads, Danish, entrées of omelettes, quiche and the like. Guglhupf feels like a European neighborhood café, and many regulars from Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh were there that sunny Sunday, greeting one other and the staff.

As we waited for Manzi to join us, Cooper admired the eclectic, leafy aesthetic of the café's indoor-outdoor dining spaces. "It's all the things I love," he said. "Old buildings, gardens, food—brought together in one spot."

Cooper worked as a baking apprentice in her native Germany and clearly has a passion for time-honored traditional German baking methods, but also for a blend of casual but classy lunch and dinner fare. In October, Guglhupf opened for dinner five nights a week. Reviews were so outstanding and customers so numerous, it's best to reserve a table in advance.

Manzi trained at the Culinary Institute of America before becoming Guglhupf's pastry chef. "The great thing about German ideas of baking and bakeries is that the sturdy breads, the delicate pastries, the holiday specialties all come from the same kitchen and ovens," she said.

Cooper and Manzi appreciate American pies, but they have found their niche in distinctive European offerings, such as tarts. What is the difference between a pie and a tart? While lemon meringue pie and lemon tarts (which some professionals see as a form of lemon bars) have similar ingredients and structure, they have different crusts and baking times. The biggest difference is in the dough: Tarts at Guglhupf usually have a sweet pate sucree base, which includes and egg and leavening; piecrusts are all about the butter, shortening and liquid. Both demand gentle handling, especially at the rolling stage.

Manzi's tarts reflect her training as a cook. She cooks down her Danish fruit fillings with a house-made reduction of cherry juice to bind the fruit. She combines new flavors with old techniques, as in her brioche-style cranberry roll, using orange peel or the classic Bûche de Noël with chestnut cream and ganache bark, made with chocolate and heavy cream.

The freshest local ingredients yield stellar results. For example, the classic French Apple Tart recipe listed at right uses nothing but eggs, milk, butter and apples from nearby farms.

Cook's note: This recipe, a favorite at the bakery since it opened in 1998, is ideal for working as a team, especially if you have extra hands on deck for the holidays. One person attends to the tart shell, another cooks the cream and someone else preps the local apples. You can have this beautiful delicacy in the oven in no time. I think its best served on the same day it's made. Otherwise, chill it until ready to serve.

Guglhupf French Apple Tart

Serves 6

Pastry for 12-inch tart shell

1 cup butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon each vanilla and lemon extract
Pinch of salt
1 whole egg or 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups pastry or all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor or with an electric mixer, combine butter and sugar until well blended but not foamy. Add extracts, salt and egg and mix or pulse to combine. Add flour and baking powder and stir just until dough forms a ball. Do not overmix. Divide dough into two discs flattened gently with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out and fitting into tart pans. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool the shell while making pastry cream and preparing apples.

Pastry cream

1 cup milk
1 large egg
1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted

Warm milk over low heat until just hot (as bubbles form around edges); do not boil. Meanwhile, whisk together in a nonreactive bowl the egg, sugar and cornstarch. When milk is ready, whisk 1/2 cup of it into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, then pour all of it back into the milk pan over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding. Return pastry cream to the nonreactive bowl, whisk in the butter and the vanilla extract and allow to cool.

Apple topping

3 large or 4 medium tart apples, such as Granny Smith, Winesap or Pink Lady, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 scant teaspoon cinnamon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup apricot jam
1 teaspoon cold water
1/4 cup sliced almonds for garnish

Prepare apples by peeling, coring and slicing thinly to approximately 1/8 inch. Assemble tart by spreading pastry cream evenly to cover the surface. Arrange apples in a fan shape, overlapping back to front of their inside curves. Apple slices will shrink during the final baking so layer them tightly and generously. Sprinkle with scant teaspoon cinnamon sugar, if desired. Bake again at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until apples are soft to the touch.

While tart is baking, mix jam and water over low heat just until melted evenly together. Brush over tart and scatter almonds along outside edges. Allow to cool completely before serving.

  • Recipe for Guglhupf's French Apple Tart

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