Apple Cranberry Walnut Tart in Phyllo

What do you do when you have a partial bag of cranberries left in the freezer from Thanksgiving, green apples the men in your house conveniently forget to eat, and a box of phyllo that needs to be used?  You can either do a Google search for the three ingredients to see what comes up, or, you finally decide to see if that recipe in the December issue of Martha Stewart Living will pan out.

Since I thoroughly read Living, and ended up making nearly our entire Thanksgiving meal from that issue, I never quite got around to making the Cranberry, Apple, and Maple Phyllo Tart.  There was something about it that just didn’t seem right.  But I loved the idea that it was quick, easy, and not as heavy on calories as a few other desserts I’ve had my tastebuds working overtime, wishing they had a bite or ten.

But I finally got around to putting a tart together.  Although it wasn’t exactly the same as the original recipe (I never intended for it to be) I believe my rendition still allowed me to decide whether I’d make this particular combination of flavors into a tart again.  It’s a pretty tart tart.  You know, tart.

If you’ve never worked with phyllo, it’s an interesting experience, depending on what the recipe you’re using requires.  In general, phyllo needs to be kept covered at all times, or it will dry out almost immediately.  Make sure you have a slightly dampened towel to cover the unused portion while you’re working and then well wrap any leftovers for future use.  It’s fragile, so it’s important to have patience (I have none) and to separate the sheets slowly to avoid tearing them. This is semi impossible, but builds character. If the box has been in the freezer too long, or has thawed, and then been refrozen (this seems to happen at the grocery store from what I can figure out…), the sheets can stick together in places, making it difficult to have patience with the process.  The good news is that if this happens to you, you can either throw out the sheet, or realize that you are using quite a few sheets, and the layers compensate for any tears that may have occurred.  It’s also important to consider (before you throw the mess across the kitchen) what you are making.  Often, the tears and imperfections in the sheets make no difference, making it less than important that you have absolutely no patience.  In fact, the torn sheets can be extremely lovely.

Oddly, I enjoy working with phyllo.   But I’ve had practice, too, so that helps.  In the case of this Apple Cranberry tart, I decided from the beginning to use a 8" x 3" cake pan with a removable bottom, so torn pieces were actually something I was working to achieve.  You’ll see.

Here’s my version of the original recipe, linked above.

Apple Cranberry Walnut Tart in Phyllo


6-8 sheets of phyllo (17" x 12" each), thawed
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter, melted
1 T cardamom
1 T cinnamon
5 T pure maple syrup
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into medium thin slices
1/2 c. walnut pieces
1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
2 T turbinado


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Using an 8" x 3" cake pan with a removable bottom, brush well with melted butter and layer with phyllo sheets. To layer the phyllo, peel a sheet from the layers of phyllo.  Gently place the sheet into the pan and using the basting brush dipped in butter, "brush" the sheet into place until it presses against the pan.  Begin with the bottom and work toward the sides before moving up to the edge.  The sheet will most likely hang over the edges of the pan.  That is okay.  You can either remove the excess now by tearing it and patching it against the phyllo in the pan, or if you’d like to achieve a more "tailored" look, trim the edge with scissors.

Remove a second sheet of phyllo and arrange it in the pan over the first piece.  Dip the brush in the melted butter then gently brush and press it into the first piece.  Make sure that each time another layer is added, the pan is completely covered. 

Repeat this process, making sure that the phyllo is completely covered with melted butter each time a new piece is added.  Any torn bits can be attached anywhere to the phyllo pressing it against a buttered piece.

After all the phyllo sheets have been fitted into the pan, begin making layers:  first a layer of apple slices, a sprinkle of cranberries, walnuts, spices and repeat two more times. 

Pour maple syrup over the top of the tart, followed by 2 T of the melted butter.  Sprinkle turbinado over all.

Place tart on a baking sheet that has been covered with parchment as the tart will leak a bit.

Bake for 25 minutes.  Let cool for at least 20 minutes before removing the bottom and placing tart on a serving plate.

Cut slices and serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Notes: This tart wasn’t very sweet.  So the combination of the tart cranberries, the tart apples and the low quantity of sweet ingredients makes it something quite different than apple pie.  Although the original version of the recipe called for additional maple syrup to be served over the top, I chose not to do that.  I served it with whipped cream, but we like our cream only barely sweet.  My immediate reaction was that I didn’t care for the cranberries in this.  I was surprised because I like cranberries.  But 25 minutes of baking time is only enough for them to plump up and look gorgeous.

When serving, the tart does come apart as I expected it to.  I was surprised, however, that the next day, it did hold together a bit more.  I don’t know that I care, because the presentation of the tart uncut was what I was going for.

I know this can be improved upon, but still wouldn’t consider making the original recipe because it seems to be lacking something…substance?

If I was to experiment with Martha’s recipe again, I would consider the following:

  1. Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl to coat evenly.
  2. Try the spice IN the melted butter and then brush some over the phyllo layers.
  3. Make a thin mascarpone maple base in the phyllo before adding the mixed ingredients.
  4. Or, just served it with a large scoop of vanilla or dulce de leche ice cream.  Now THAT might be just right.