Somewhere between apple picking, bird watching, making cider and classic apple pies, I managed to make a delicious Tarte Tatin. It turned out to be perfect this time (well, almost perfect), so here I am with my little tips in the midst of our continued fall adventures.
The French dessert classic is an appealing combination of a crust and caramelized apples that is equally spectacular and comforting, which explains why this tart has been undimmed by time and is constantly in renaissance. Dozens of interesting tarts have hatched from this ancestor, including fruit upside-down tarts (pears, apricots, pineapples, peaches, figs, plums, etc.), veggies (tomatoes, onion, zucchinis, eggplants) and savory versions (seafood, fish, poultry, mushrooms and game) of Tatin.
The original Tatin, however, was made only with apples.
Created by accident more than a century ago, when the innkeeper sisters Tatin from the Loire region forgot to line the baking pan with dough and decided to place it over the apples, this tart is inherently forgiving. Which is why, the French whimsical culinary invention is also prone to cooking abuse: too little or too much apples, sugar or butter; wrong pastry/baking pan; messy inverting process. Sooner or later you get it, and here I am posting my little tips on ‘’how to make your tart Tatin a success’’.
The following are my own discoveries on how to turn your tart Tatin from moderately successful to the best possible:
Apples: Royal Gala or Granny Smith make two best choices of apples for Tatin – they hold their shape during cooking and do not melt into apple sauce. The second choice would be green Golden Delicious or Jonathan. All other kinds failed (turned into apple sauce) during my numerous experiments.
Dough: Although puff pastry is a popular version, which can also save you a lot of time and effort, I find pâte brisée brings the best out of caramelized apples and delivers unmatched results in taste. Use the food processor to make it foolproof. Rolling the dough over parchment paper (I use my hands rather than roller ’cause the pastry is sticky) and chilling it before placing on the hot apples makes this step easier.
Pans & Caramelized Apples: A 12-inch non-stick skillet works best for me. I am using a stove top method in which apples are slowly caramelized in a skillet on top of the butter and sugar before baking. This method is not used in many Tatin recipes, but delivers much better and more controllable results, to my opinion. Once I tried cast-iron frying pan and oven method, I made a complete botch of my attempt at caramelizing apples, with too much butter and sugar – they quickly turned into a burnt apple sauce emanating lots of smoke and disappointment. I did not try the oven method for apple caramel again. Finally, I significantly cut the amount of butter and sugar in the apple caramel compared to most of the recipes to allow the apple ingredient to really shine and make the caramel leaner since pâte brisée crust is sweet and buttery enough for me. But if you are a real sweet tooth, feel free to add more sugar and butter before caramelizing your apples.
Tart filling ingredients:
3 lbs (1.5 kg) about 7 medium Royal Gala or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup (75 ml) unsalted butter
¾ cup (175 ml) granulated sugar
1 pâte brisée pastry crust (see below recipe)
In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the sugar. Stir until the butter is evenly mixed in. Working clockwise, tightly pack the apple halves into the skillet, laying them on their flat sides. The apples will shrink as they cook, so don’t be afraid to pack them tight. Cook the apples over medium heat until the butter and sugar caramelize for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and carefully turn the apples over to the other side using 2 forks. Make sure that the apples are browned before you turn them over. Pack the apples tightly on their sides. If you see a loose area, rearrange the apples a bit to fill in the gap. Return to high heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the apples cool in the skillet while you remove the dough. Wrap the skillet handle with aluminum paper (if using the same pan for baking), or, transfer and arrange apples carefully with their flat sides up in another baking pan (i.e. stainless steel with oven proof handle, like I did last time).
Carefully slide chilled dough on top of the apples in skillet. Place skillet on cookie sheet to catch drips. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven; let stand 10 minutes. Run a knife or wooden spatula along the edge of the pan to loosen the tart. With your mittens on, place large plate (preferably with lip around edge) over skillet; carefully invert. Replace any apple pieces that have stuck to the skillet. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or cold with crème fraîche.
Pastry: pâte brisée ingredients (for one tart):
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick or 125 ml) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice-cold water
Combine flour, salt, sugar and butter in a bowl of a food processor. Process pulsing about 6 times, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to bowl, add water and stir with fork until combined. Shape dough into ball with hands. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or until needed.
About 1 hour before baking, roll the dough on parchment paper into circle about 12 inches (28 cm) in diameter (or whichever size your baking pan will be), pierce with fork and chill in the freezer until ready to put over the caramelized apples.