Emma Duckworth’s Apple Fennel Salted Caramel Tart

Editor’s Note: This recipe is from Emma Duckworth’s new book, Simply Sweet Nostalgic Bakes: 55 Elegant Takes on Comfort Classics (Page Street Publishing Co., 2021; $21.99). It’s a caramel apple tart, which would be enough to get us on board, but the clincher is that the caramel is infused with the flavor of fennel, an unexpected but delightful twist. Here’s what Emma says about this dessert:

“Apple tart was definitely a dessert that my twin brother and I had on repeat growing up with a French mum. She would make it from memory with a sweet shortcrust pastry and a double hit of apple between an apple purée layer and the (essential!) topping of thinly sliced apples taking center stage. The traditional way of baking it is exceptional, there’s no denying that, but I wanted to play around with the flavor combinations to give it my own spin. Caramel and apple go superwell together, as do apple and fennel. Yet fennel is used more in savory dishes. That needs to change right away! The fennel caramel here is sublime. It’s so unique in its taste, and when set alongside the sweet apples? Oh, my goodness. Awesome! I urge you to try it. It’ll blow your mind!”

Makes 1 (9-inch[23-cm]) tart (10–12 slices)


Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

  • 1¾ cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup (115 grams) cold unsalted butter, chopped into small cubes
  • 1 large egg, cold and beaten
  • 1–2 tbsp (15–30 ml) ice-cold water

Fennel Caramel Sauce

  • 3 tbsp (12 grams) fennel seeds
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature and chopped
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp natural sea salt flakes (or to taste)

Apple Filling

  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 5 large apples (about 570 grams)
  • 1 tbsp (8 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream, to serve


  1. To make the sweet shortcrust pastry, in a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Add the butter and toss until the cubes are coated. Rub the mixture together between your fingers until it reaches a breadcrumb consistency with a few hazelnut-sized pieces of butter still visible. Make a well in the center and add the egg. Using a fork, mix the egg into the flour. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the ice-cold water, and use your fingertips to bring the dough together. If the dough isn’t clumping together, add more water sparingly. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured countertop, and use floured hands to shape the dough into a ball, taking care not to overwork it. Flatten slightly into a disc, and wrap well in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to let the dough rest.
  1. Remove the chilled dough disc from the fridge and set it aside on your countertop for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the dough to warm up slightly so it’s easier to roll out. Trying to roll dough that is too cold will cause the edges to crack. To roll out, lightly flour your countertop and rolling pin, and using firm, even strokes, roll from the center outward, turning the dough a quarter turn every few strokes. Roll the dough out to the thickness of a coin (1/8 inch (3 mm) thick) and into a 12-inch (30-cm) circle. Flour the base of a 9-inch (23-cm) shallow fluted tart pan with a removable base, and gently lift the dough and place into the prepared pan. Use your fingers to push the dough up the sides of the pan and into the grooves. Using a sharp knife,trim off the excess dough from the rim. Refrigerate the prepared tart shells for at least 1 hour to allow the dough to relax further. My preference is to leave the shell overnight in the fridge and continue with the recipe the next day. If you do this, cover it well in plastic wrap to ensure that the dough doesn’t dry out.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  1. Once the dough is chilled, prick the tart base all over with a fork, and then line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights all the way up the sides. Blind bake for 15 minutes, and then remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Return the tart back to the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the base is dry and a light golden color. Remove from the oven, and leave the tart shell to cool while you make the caramel and prepare the filling.
  1. To make the fennel caramel sauce, in a small skillet over low heat, lightly toast the fennel seeds. Once fragrant and lightly browned, add to a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder. Set aside. In a high-sided non-stick saucepan, heat the sugar over medium heat, stirring often. Once the sugar is in liquid form, stop stirring and just swirl the liquid sugar as the color changes to a lovely amber color. Keep an eagle eye on it at this stage, as it can turn to burnt sugar very quickly. Carefully add the butter in one go. It will bubble up, but whisk continuously until it has thoroughly melted. Then remove from the heat.
  1. Add the cream, but be careful, as it will bubble up again; keep whisking and the bubbling will die down. Return it to medium heat, stirring occasionally, so that the caramel can thicken. This takes about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the ground fennel seeds (add half if you want a more subtle flavor), vanilla extract and salt, and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Pour 1 cup (240 ml) into the bottom of the tart shell and smooth out flat. Pour any remaining caramel into a small serving dish and serve alongside the tart.
  1. To make the apple filling and assemble the tart, add the lemon juice to a large bowl. Cut the apples in half through the core. Remove the core with a sharp knife or melon baller. Slice the apple crossways as thinly as you can. An option is to use a mandoline for this part. Discard (or eat!) the top and bottom of the apple cheeks. Add the apple slices to the bowl and gently toss in the lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Arrange the apple slices into the tart shell in any pattern you desire. I started on the outside of the tart shell and laid them overlapping, continuing in a spiral until the center of the tart. Use your fingers to reposition any if necessary. The thinner the slices, the easier it will be to spiral in the center. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
  1. Place the tart onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until the caramel is bubbling, the apples have softened and the apple edges have caramelized. Cover the edges with foil if the tart shell is browning too quickly and continue to bake. Be careful when removing the tart from the oven, as the caramel will be molten hot and melted to a liquid and the apple slices can slide around. Allow the tart to cool in the tart pan for 15 minutes, repositioning many slices that may have moved when taking the tart out of the oven. After 15 minutes, carefully remove the tart from the pan and slide it onto a serving plate. Serve warm with any remaining caramel sauce drizzled on top and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This can be stored at room temperature loosely wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 2 days or in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Reprinted with permission from Simply Sweet Nostalgic Bakes by Emma Duckworth, Page Street Publishing, Co. 2021. Photo credit: Emma Duckworth             


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