I just adore apple season. It's my favorite time of year. For one thing, I get to start experimenting with all sorts of new recipes and experiments. Sometimes things don't work out quite so well and sometimes - oh sometimes, they work out brilliantly.
Preheat your oven to 350 F and lightly butter your muffin tin.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry. Using a cookie cutter, cut out 12 pieces and carefully place them into the muffin tin. I cut circles here, but you can get some really interesting results if you cut large stars or squares, too.
Blind bake the puff pastry for 15 minutes while you start on the apples.
Pour the apple cider and sugar into a large pot or dutch oven and stir until the sugar dissolves. Do not turn on the heat yet, as you'll want all the apples to poach as evenly as possible.
To prepare the apples, start by getting a few things together, such as a mandolin and a bowl of acidulated water, and make sure to wash the apples gently so you don't break or tear the skin.
Core the apples, dunking each into the acidulated water to protect their color. Once they've been cored, cut each apple in half vertically and slice with a mandolin.
You can use a knife if you don't have a mandolin, but you'll want to make sure that the knife is good and sharp, and you'll want to be careful that the slices are very close in thickness.
Carefully drop the apple slices into the apple cider. To stir or dunk, use a spoon that will not break or rip through the apples. The apples will float, but you might need to add a cup or two more of apple cider depending on just how many apples you cut up - that way you can continue to dunk them into the cider.
Turn the burner to medium high, stirring occasionally to re-dunk and re-soak the apple slices that are floating on the top. Once the apple cider starts to steam, set your timer for 10 minutes and let the apples simmer.
After 10 minutes have passed, test the apple slices by pulling one (preferably small) slice and trying to roll it in your hand. If it breaks or tears, they are not ready. Give them a couple more minutes and then try again. Don't worry - you have plenty of slices.
Once the apples pass the rolling test, turn off the heat and carefully remove the slices using a slotted spoon or scoop. Some of the slices will probably tear a little bit, but that's okay. Place the apple slices into a colander so they can cool a little and drain a bit.
Once the apple slices are cool enough to handle, start arranging them into strips of overlapping pieces. You should end up with 12 strips of 12 overlapping pieces. Cover with saran wrap and set aside for now.
For the custard, mix the 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and corn syrup into a large skillet and cook over medium high heat. Stir occasionally to make sure everything gets combined, but don't stir so much that it starts to clump and crystallize.
By the way - this is how all of my caramel recipes start - whether making them for sauces, candies or puddings.
When the sugar mixture starts to turn a light amber and boiling, start stirring to ensure that everything caramelizes evenly. Turn the heat down to low and keep stirring until the caramel stops boiling.
Blend the flour into the caramelized sugar, still stirring over low heat.
Beat together the egg yolks and milk and pour them into the sugar / flour, then turn the heat back up to medium high. The caramel will probably harden when you do this, and you'll find it a little harder to stir, but keep stirring constantly as you add in the milk and even after until the caramel completely melts again.
Once the caramel has started to thicken, add in the butter and vanilla. Stir to combine, then remove everything from the heat.
Using a ladle or spoon, pour the filling into the puff pastry tarts. You'll probably have a lot left over - that's okay. Later on, you can pour it into a pie shell, top it with a meringue and bake that, too.
Back to the rosey tarts.
Starting at the end with the apple slice on the bottom, carefully roll up the strips of apple slices, then, while still pinching the rolls together, place them on edge into the muffin tin.
Use your fingertips or a butter knife to help fan out the edges of the apples slices into a full on blooming rose. At the same time, gently push the apple rose down into the custard to help keep it in place.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 35-45 minutes. As they bake, the pastry will brown, the custard will set and the apple roses will firm up.
Let the tarts cool in the pan until they can be handled. To remove them from the pan, use a butter knife to scrape around and loosen the edges and a flexible spoonula / spatula (silicon) to scoop out the bottom.
For a little extra pizzazz - drizzle just a tad of caramel sauce in a spiral over the rose before serving. My apple-infused caramel works perfectly for that.
Stand back and wait for the "awws", the "that's so pretties", and the "I almost don't want to eat its"...