These rich shortcrust pastry tarts are filled with a thick, spiced apple compote and a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream – topped by soft Italian meringue, prettily piped then lightly browned.
Make the ice cream first so it has plenty of time to freeze: pour the milk into a heavy-based, medium-sized pan, add the split vanilla pod and place over a low heat. Leave until steaming hot then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Remove the pod from the milk and scrape the tiny black seeds into the liquid – you won't need the pod again but you can rinse and dry it thoroughly to use later for flavouring vanilla sugar or a jug of hot chocolate.
Put the egg yolks and sugar into a heatproof bowl and whisk, using a wire hand whisk, until very pale and thick, then whisk in the hot milk. When thoroughly combined, return the mixture to the pan and place over a medium–low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens to coat the back of the spoon – don't let the mixture get anywhere close to boiling or it will scramble. Strain into a clean, heatproof bowl. Leave to cool then cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Whip the cream until floppy then fold into the chilled custard. Pour into the ice-cream machine and churn until firm. Transfer the ice cream to the freezer until hard enough to scoop easily, then remove 6 neat balls (using an ice-cream scoop or pair of spoons) and arrange slightly apart on a freezer-proof tray lined with cling film. Return the scoops and remaining ice cream to the freezer.
Make the shortcrust pastry either by hand or in a food processor. If making by hand: sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl, add the butter and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Mix in the sugar then use a round-bladed knife to work in enough of the beaten egg (and water, if necessary) to make a firm dough.
To make the dough in a food processor: put the flour and salt into the bowl and 'pulse' until combined. Add the butter and blitz until the mixture looks like fine crumbs, then add the sugar and 'pulse' again until combined. With the machine still running, pour in enough egg (and water, if needed) to make a ball of firm dough.
Turn out the dough onto the worktop, shape into a thick disc, wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes. Then unwrap the pastry onto a lightly floured worktop and divide into 6 equal portions. Roll each portion to a thin disc (15cm across) and use to line the tartlet cases by lifting the pastry over the tin and letting it drape across.
Lightly flour your fingers and gently press the pastry onto the base and up the sides of each tin – pressing out any bubbles of air or creases. Roll the rolling pin across the top of the case to cut off the excess pastry. Flour your fingers again and gently ease the pastry rim up and above the metal rim of the tin – this will make the pastry case deeper, help prevent shrinkage and give a neat, thin rim. Prick the base well. Place all 6 tins on the baking sheet and chill for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/Gas 5. Cut 6 discs of baking paper (16cm across), crumple them to soften, then smooth out and use to line the pastry cases. Fill with baking beans then 'bake blind' in the oven for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the paper and beans and bake the empty tartlets for another 7 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden. Transfer the tartlet tins to a wire rack and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, make the apple filling: peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut into 2cm chunks (they don't have to be neat or even). Put into a medium-sized pan with the sugar, cinnamon and water and place over a medium heat. Cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the apples are soft and very, very thick. If necessary, turn up the heat and stir until the mixture has lost any watery appearance. Taste and add a little more sugar/cinnamon as needed – the filling should be nicely 'tart' to contrast with the very sweet meringue. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and leave to cool.
Now for the meringue: weigh the water, glucose and sugar into a small, heavy-based pan. Place over a low heat and leave to melt very slowly, stirring occasionally. From time to time, brush down the sides of the pan with a heatproof brush dipped in cold water to remove any stuck-on grains of sugar. When the mixture is clear, bring it to the boil and boil for 5–7 minutes until the syrup reaches 116°C/241°F on the sugar thermometer.
While the syrup is boiling, pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the cream of tartar and whisk until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Once the syrup is ready, pour it onto the whites in a thin, steady stream – while whisking at full speed. Keep whisking until the meringue is very thick and shiny and returns to room temperature. Transfer to a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
To assemble the tartlets: first have everything ready so you can move swiftly. Place the tartlets on a serving board and fill them with the apple mixture. Place a scoop of ice cream in the centre of each tartlet then quickly cover the ice cream and apple filling with meringue, piped in ropes, swirls or rosettes (whichever you like best). You need to work fast! Then quickly brown the meringue with a kitchen blowtorch. Serve immediately with the remaining ice cream on the side.