no recipe apple tart

Tarte aux pommes

Can you bake without a recipe?  Most of you are probably shaking your head no…no, no, no, no.  You’ve all been scared off by that culinary truism that refers to cooking as an art and baking as a science.  I don’t think it’s true at all.  And I think most good home cooks who are afraid of baking are missing out a whole lot.  The same is true with bakers who religiously follow recipes.  If baking is rigidly following a recipe, you’re missing out on the improvisation, the play that makes cooking so much fun.

Of course, it’s true that you need to learn a few basic recipes.  Learn how to do a pie/tart crust, for example.  Any good food writer/blogger worth their salt can teach you one. Yes, I even have one in my book (which of course you must wait for.)  But once you have that, you can bake just about any fruit tart or fruit pies that your heart desires and you mind imagines.

Before baking

Just like the simple tart you see here.  I made it without any recipe
at all.  Really.  My dough recipe is so easy I remember it by heart.
So I made mine without having to look it up.  (Again, you can learn how to do it by going here, here, and here.)   Or you can buy an all-butter pie crust from any good
supermarket if you didn’t want to bother, even Trader Joe’s carry one.
Roll it out, thin, to about 9-10inch diameter.  Do it on a sheet of parchment to make it easier to move later.

Then take any fruit you like -apples are in season now so it’s apples for me.  I had a few Pippins and one or two Pink Ladies I got at the market this week.  So I peeled them (about 3-4 small ones), slice them thin, and arrange them in a pretty layer on my bare round of dough, leaving about an inch around the outside edge to fold.  Sprinkled some sugar on top so they would melt and turn a little shiny on the surface.  Folded the dough inwards and crimped the edges a bit to keep them there.  If you want, you can crack an egg, beat it a bit, and brush the eggwash all over the outside edge of the tart so it turns nice and golden in the oven.  Some sugar to add a bit of crunch would be nice too.  And that’s about it.  The tart went into 400F (about 200C) preheated oven until golden brown, or until it looked and smelled done, about 30 minutes did the trick.

And, voila, a lovely, simple apple tart as a dessert to end a lovely homecooked meal.  You could do this with stone fruits when they come into season, or poached pears while the weather is still cold.  If you’re not into having things all lined up, you could even just toss a jumble of apple or pear slices, throwing in a few dried fruits all chopped up for good measure.  Who cares how pretty or messy they look, just do what feels good to you.  If you tart turned out really ugly, you could break it up into big chunks, toss them together a bit and called them deconstructed fruit crumble.  Top it up with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and no one ever has to know.  Ha.

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  • Kate

    Trader Joe’s pie crust is actually a very good thing – the best premade I’ve found by far.
    You should check out Michael Ruhlman’s new book — it’s all about baking without a recipe (on the premise that most dishes are based on uniform ratios) and is very interesting.

  • meleyna

    My mother is a master at baking without a recipe. I myself tend to be a recipe follower.
    This tart, however, looks fantastic. I made a blood orange crostata yesterday, and while the filling was pretty good, the sugared crust? Well, my poor little tart is pretty much all fruit and no crust today. (Okay so technically I picked all the crust off before the thing had even cooled but hey, no one was looking…)

  • DrGaellon

    I don’t know that I quite agree with you, Pim. There’s a difference between cooking without a recipe and cooking without a cookbook. Did you make your crust by eyeballing quantities, or did you measure based on a recipe in your head? Pie crust is one of the few baking things you can eyeball with enough experience…

  • T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types

    I am having more fun improvising than ever before. It’s nice to see how much I’ve learned from traditional recipes and see if I can cook instinctively. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but often the results can be surprisingly good and satisfying because you’ve used your intuition.

  • Dana McCauley

    Perfect for 3:14 (March 14th). I have a good tarte tatin recipe that could be an equally good choice:

  • kk60647

    could you do this with puff pastry, too? or do you recommend puff pastry for other types of desserts?

  • Farmgirl Susan

    Your tart is so lovely!

  • Pim

    Oh yes, absolutely. Just roll it thin and, with the tines of a fork, prick the area you will line with apples – don’t be so hard, just lightly prick to let some air out while it bakes, and make sure you leave an inch or two around the edges. You don’t need to fold the edges over, just leave it like that. The area you pricked with the fork and line with apples will stay flat-ish, while the edge will puff up nicely.

  • Pim

    I’ll have to check out that book. I saw it on his blog a couple weeks ago. Thanks.

  • Pim

    Well, I guess I was blurring the line a bit. Of course one needs to know some technique on cooking and baking, just like one would in any other area of life, but with those techniques we could improvise and have fun, and not let ourselves with shackled with recipes.
    I have a friend who’s really great at baking, but each time she makes something she follows a recipe to the letter – and by that I mean to the letter, if it say to beat for 2.5 minutes she times it for precisely that. It’s painful to watch, like seeing someone with the talent of Picasso insisting on painting by numbers.

  • Pim


  • Pim

    That’s funny. I’m with you on the crust. That’s why I love making pop tarts so much, it’s all crust!

  • Pim

    Oh yes, happy pi day!

  • Pim

    Thank you. Have the babies arrived yet on your farm?

  • Jane

    I do one similar (with no recipe!), that is I have the recipe memorized and more or less follow it. It has apples, some grated orange rind, 1/2 c. or so of fresh cranberries and some mascarpone cheese. I do the crust from memory, similar to yours. It is fab. My husband’s favorite dessert!!

  • DrGaellon

    Oh, I agree. F’r instance, I’d never dream of making a cake or cookies without the quantities from a recipe – though I might use a drop more extract or a bit more nuts, or something along those lines. But once everything’s measured, then I use my experience and knowledge of technique to put it together, without slavishly following the recipe – which is probably what you meant in the first place. :)

  • TheFunkyChef

    You’re right. Once you know the basics of a dish, it’s so much fun to improvise. all the great dishes started somewhere.

  • Ross Donaldson

    I’m really delighted to be reading your blog; I haven’t found many other prominent food bloggers who are willing to write about cookbook-less cooking. Recipe blogs abound; cooking-without-recipes blogs are few and far between. Well done!
    And a variation on your idea: I love tarte tatin. It’s very simple — sugar, butter, and vanilla in a cast iron skilled, sliced apples on top, cook on the range until everything is bubbly, cover with crust, and bake until the crust is done. It provides a wonderful way to expand on the easy, straightforward tart idea — things needn’t be kept quite as dry, and you can use any pastry dough you want to cover.

  • jimmy-in-Seattle

    U deleted my comment? Censorship? That’s a real insult! You take yourself too seriously. You only want people to “comment” if they are kissing your rear. It is objective criticism that will keep you on your toes. Many of my posts to you over the last five years have been full of compliments!! FIVE YEARS! If there was swearing I would understand…We believe in free speech in this country….You must be from Thailand.

  • Pim

    It has nothing to do with a positive or negative comment you left here on *my* blog. I leave plenty of negative comments up. It has to do with not tolerating insults to people I love. That’s where I draw the line.
    Plus, no, this is not a free speech zone. Look up to the top of the blog and read what it says, Chez Pim. The day it says Chez Tout le Monde, then everyone gets a say.
    I should also delete this one for its racist tone alone.

  • Pim

    Thank you. I adore tarte tatin, and it would do great with my tart crust too. Soon!

  • Pim

    I like the sound of this.

  • Pim

    That’s the idea.

  • Gourmet Chick

    Sounds great Pim. Glyn Christopher has a good book on cooking without recipes. It points out that recipes are dependant on the the temperature, warmth of your hands, vagaries of your oven, size of your eggs etc and so should not be followed slavishly anyway – the important thing is to think about flavour combinations that go together – like apple and pie crust for example! I have reviewed it on my blog and it is worth a read.

  • jay

    Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it. I will be back for more! Sincerely, Jay

  • MichaelG

    Congrats on David beating Bobby Flay last night!
    By the way, I came upon a wonderful series of novels by an English writer named John Burdett. They’re set in Bangkok and feature a half Thai half American police detective. Excellent writing that conveys Thai sensibilities very, very well.

  • Karin

    I’m very excited to hear you are writing a book.

  • Mark Scarbrough

    Pim, you’re a God send this morning. I’m reading that awful FRENCH WOMEN DON’T GET FAT–and she has this whole idea that to save calories, you bake apple tarts on cabbage leaves. I threw the book across the room and thought, the whole food world has gone mad. Apparently not. That

  • neil rankin

    Cooking without recipes can lead to some fabulous disasters and successes in equal measure, but I think it’s good to step out of our comfort zone once in a while. I think everything is more fun this way.
    Beautiful blog btw.

  • Venus

    You make this seem easy. I am a fair cook, particularly when it comes to southeast Asian dishes (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) and I can create new dishes without recipes, but for the life of me I can’t bake. Even with a recipe. Baking intimidates me even before I get started. I may have to try this.
    I haven’t done much cooking in a while but your blog makes me want to start again. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • unconfidentialcook

    I think there are two types of cooks: those who can follow the most intricate of recipes and those who can look into a seemingly empty pantry/refrigerator and whip up the most delicious meal. Both take talent, both incur successes and failures and both are worth the journey. But, nothing beats the feeling of creating something from nothing!

  • kirsten

    Oh I’m so excited you posted this. I had quite the disappointing experiment last year when my figs were ripe last summer. I couldn’t find a satisfactory fig-in-crust recipe, so I attempted my own little tart with dreams of it looking like your apple creation. My ingredients were few… just a little sugar and maybe some butter?
    Perhaps they were too ripe, but the whole thing was a goopy mess. Any hints when attempting to bake with this year’s crop?

  • casey

    that’s funny you brought this up–i have memorized a few good basic baking recipes (like sable cookies, or muffins, or caramel), but friends of mine always raise an eyebrow or shudder when i say that i don’t bake very often with a recipe in front of me. also, a lot of my best “mistakes” have become my favorite recipes! I did it a few weeks ago with some fig & vanilla scones, and they were delicious….

  • maris

    I agree that once you have the techniques down, you can improvise. I like to cook because there’s less precision involved but the more I bake the more I enjoy it! I still need a basic recipe – amount of flour, sugar, etc. But I like being creative with garnishes, fillings, etc.

  • Lauren

    Go Pim! There is something so satisfying about dreaming up your own ideas and recipes – and once you have the basics down, you can do this with almost no panic about amounts!
    It’s nice to hear someone speaking out for innovation!

  • Atlanta Private Investigator

    Excellent. Looks very appetizing.

  • Claire Mason

    I just love the way the apples are lined up. Almost like waves. That is one sexy recipe-less tart.

  • Sara @ Culinerapy

    I must confess, I sometimes lie awake at night, feeling like a failure for not yet having my own fail-proof favorite crust recipe. It’s just one of those things: whenever I meet someone who can casually refer to “their” pie crust recipe, I feel a massive pang of jealousy.
    Luckily, the quest to find “the one” is a delicious journey.
    Someday, I’ll have one. And then, THEN, I can contemplate baking without recipes.

  • Jessie Cacciola

    Hi Pim,
    I just discovered your blog through the Gourmet Magazine diary video on food bloggers. Thanks for the inspiration. Will visit here often, I’m sure.

  • Conor

    I made one and it was SQUARE!!!!!!!!yummy. I improvised a bit after I read this and added raspberry jam on the crust.
    I took pictures on my cell phone, if I put on facebook I’ll tag you. It was so pretty.

  • Margaret

    You illustrate a very good point. I call it “process” cooking: after carefully following one recipe, one can most often deconstruct it into several processes, change the flavor ingredients and/or combine the newly learned process with others to almost effortlessly create a whole slew of new dishes without recipes. It is sad that too many people are tied to “recipe” cooking, and necessarily reinvent the wheel every time they cook. Thanks for the good tutorial.


    What you say is so true. People who can’t cook without a recipe are truly missing the funniest part of cooking: creativity. I only cook using a recipe when I feel lazy.
    Cooking for me is a way to forget about the everyday life for half an hour, to de-stress and feel relkaxed. Cooking while following a recipe is a chore, it isn’t fun, at all.
    Very good post!

  • Eduardo @ Make Friends

    What you said is true, but I still can’t do it without a recipe haha!
    I don’t know why, maybe I am just not that good of a cook.
    Do you have any tips for us newbies??

  • Dave Jones

    Oh my god, Im speechless…sounds superb.

  • Jodye

    Simple and beautiful, the best kind of dessert

  • Debora

    I love the pretty, fish-scale-y look of your apple tart! I agree that cooking without recipes is thrilling – it forces you to concentrate and really engage with the food in front of you. In our house, experimenting like this is the source of many happily delicious accidents (and a few unmitigated disasters, but then we have a very greedy dog…). I make a similar tart to yours and sometimes I scatter the smallest amount of fresh thyme or rosemary among the apple slices – it’s surprisingly good!

  • Cath the Canberra Cook

    I’ve made up tarts rather like this for spur of the moment desserts. Frozen pastry is handy for such improv. I like to put some almond meal under the fruit, mixed with a little sugar and egg. It helps stop the pastry going soggy.

  • Maya

    Great Post… however… will you update already! enough with this twitter… You’re such a great writer… write!

  • Jenni

    Wow! My baking philosophy exactly. So glad I wandered by and found you; I’ve been preaching about relaxing and learning technique over recipe for quite awhile. Very refreshing to see another food blogger doing the same:)

  • Jenni

    Lovely tart. I like that it’s free form but saved from being overly rustic by the beautifully placed scalloped apples. It sounds wonderful

  • Recipe man

    great post! thanks
    im new to this site but it looks great

  • RecipeGirl

    I like to ‘follow’ a recipe and improvise from there. Yeah, I’m sure I could whip something up… but I prefer the crutch of a recipe in front of me.
    This looks great- the placement of the apples is key :)

  • annie

    Perfect, perfect timing! Just saw “Waitress” finally, got obsessed with making pies, and made enough in a row using Dorie Greenspan’s crust recipe that I know it by heart. I’ll start with the apples now, and look forward to hands full of blueberries, raspberries and maybe even tomatoes from the farmers’ market in the summer….

  • porkygourmand

    Simply beautiful, love your blog.

  • Une chicette à Paris

    Totally inspiring – must try soon!!! :-)
    Kisses from Paris!

  • Jane

    Hi Pim: I would be glad to send you the exact recipe if you’d like. Let me know and I’ll e-mail it to you.
    I enjoy your blogging!


    I love these no recipe dishes. This is what we learn at school (I’m a culinary school student). This, to me, is what cooking is about.

  • Chilli

    It’s like apple pie pizza!! I’m totally in love with this recipe…had recently tried out a pie dough I liked…I think I’m going to try this with that…yum, yum, yum!!

  • Karin

    I’m with Maya: Yeah! please we are all very excited about the new book but: Put up or up tart! Twitter really doesn’t cut it.

  • Barbara

    yum. the last three things i have baked (peanut butter cookies, tomato tart, apple tart) were all just made up on the spot– and they were awesome! it’s all about getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t. what a fun blog you have… i might have to dip into your archives now :D

  • Pim

    That does sound worth a read indeed. I’ll have to find a copy.

  • Pim

    I’ll pass on the congrats to David. You’re the second person this week who told me about those books. Might be some kind of sign.

  • Pim

    Wrote. It’s done. Just at the printer, and will hit the stores later this year. Yay.

  • Pim

    LOL I think that book is crap too.

  • Pim

    Thanks. Yes, and sometimes a failure is so much better for us than a success.

  • Pim

    You’re welcome. You should never be scared of baking. Just try a couple things, it won’t kill you even if it’s abject failure. Live and learn, no?

  • Pim

    I’m with you.

  • Pim

    The figs that are too ripe might need something between them and the tart dough. Perhaps a layer of frangipane to soak up some of the juices?

  • Pim

    That’s how I got my favorite tart dough recipe, from a mistake.

  • Pim

    Yes, and that’s the point.

  • Pim

    Glad you approve!

  • Pim

    LOL. That reminds me of the time I translated a French recipe for a friend – rub butter all over the tart’s bottom, it said.

  • Pim

    The day will come. Don’t be discourage, you’ll get there!

  • Pim

    Thanks. I just noticed they put that video online too, I should link to it.

  • Pim

    Have you tagged me yet? I haven’t seen it.

  • Pim

    You’re welcome.

  • Pim

    Thanks. You’re right, cooking should never be a chore.

  • Pim

    Yes you can. You just have to believe it.

  • Pim


  • Pim

    and delicious even ;-)

  • Pim

    That sounds fantastic. I love savory ingredients in desserts.

  • Pim

    That’s a great idea.

  • Pim

    LOL I did, finally!

  • Pim

    Great minds ;-)

  • Pim

    It was. I’m telling you. :-)

  • Pim

    Hey, whatever works for you. No judgement. really.

  • Pim

    Try adding some parmesan in the crust when making a dough for your farmer’s market tomatoes. You’ll love it.

  • Pim

    Thanks chicette, thanks porkygourmand too.

  • Pim

    Sounds like you’re in the right school.

  • Pim

    Please do, and share your pictures when you do.

  • Pim

    I’d love it. Thanks.

  • Pim

    You guys are hilarious. I updated finally. I did, I did!

  • Pim

    Please do, and let me know what you think.

  • yemek tarifleri

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write. Your comments and feedback are always appreciated. : )

  • carolynn

    I always say that fruit pies (and that whole family of desserts that includes crisps, cobblers, and crumbs) are the cooking of the baking world. If you don’t put enough sugar in, or if you forgot the sugar altogether, it would still be a pie. Just heap on more ice cream! On the other hand, if you used the same laissez faire philosophy to make those chocolate chip cookies on–which incidentally i have made dozens of times and agree they are the best–you would be in trouble!

  • Alexandra

    I have been looking for a great apple tart for a party that I’m having and I just found your blog and I love this recipe for it!

  • Jen

    I’m definitely more comfortable at improvisational cooking than baking. After reading this post, I may take a leap of faith! Ideally, I strive to add basic recipes to my repertoire so I may initiate my own twists on classic baked goods. Thanks for sparking some inspiration!

  • GraceF

    I love the link to the foolproof pie dough. It looks like a great recipe, but I’m not sure it would be foolproof as it calls for vodka, and depending on the day, I’m not sure all the vodka would make it in to the recipe! LOL! Do you think phyllo dough would work also?

  • arianna

    A friend shared a great cheat that works fab with ultra ripe figs – just crumble up amaretto biscuits as a layer under the figs … i think i sprinkled a bit of liquid too? but mainly just the figs sliced through …

  • birdyonawire

    Great idea … just made a variant with a little extra sweetness by way of a quick layer of caramel (brown sugar and butter melted to foaming) underneath the apples. Helped keep the base crispy too.


    WOW, this is awesome. No recipe? Yes that’s it!

  • Kim

    Six months later isn’t too late to comment is it? Just made this for may dads birthday the other night (time crunch + diet restrictions = apple birthday tart!) and it was a huge hit. Super easy too! Thanks for the idea!

  • tiffanyfree

    I think that these mushrooms would be a great addition to my mushroom collection.

  • China Dual SIM Cards Cellphone

    Oh, I agree. F’r instance,

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