Tarte Tatin

Tarte tatin is my favorite.  Hands down, no more to say, drop the mike, walk off stage and leave the building favorite.

The first time I had tarte tatin was from The Ivy.  A good friend  worked there after college and introduced me to the deeply flavored, almost burnt caramel and robust apple of this rustic french dish.  At The Ivy, it’s served hot and when that scoop of vanilla ice cream hits it, it turns into the best thing you will ever put into your mouth.

There is quite a bit of mythology around the origins of tarte tatin.  The stories agree that it was created at the Hotel Tatin run by two sisters in the picturesque town of Lamotte-Beuvron in central France.  From there things get a little hazy but my favorite version is that they were making an apple tarte, forgot to make the crust and so popped it on top of the apples.

While the ingredient list is incredibly simple: apples, butter, sugar (a pinch of salt) and puff pastry, it doesn’t seem to get as much love as apple pie.  I suspect it’s  because it needs to be served fairly quickly after it is done to get the full experience.  Left overnight, the pastry goes soggy (but the apples are still delicious.  ‘Aint no shame in taste tatin apples and a strong cup of black coffee for breakfast.

I’ve tried several tarte tatin recipes over the years and my favorite comes from the New York Times.  In this version, you peel and quarter the apples the day before and then refrigerate them.  This allows them to release some of their juices before cooking, creating less liquid to manage during the stove-stage and ultimately, a richer caramel sauce.

Tarte tatin can be made with all kinds of fruit, but apple is my favorite.  Just like apple pie, the kind of apple you use is up to you.  I like to mix some tart (usually Granny Smith) with something a little sweeter.  When shopping for this tarte tatin, I came across a new (to me) variety called envy.  They’re a really delicious eating apple and, because they’re a little crisper than some of the other sweeter varieties, they held up well.

This dish starts on the stove top in a cast iron pan.  First comes a layer of butter, then a layer of sugar.  The the apple quarters are arranged in a rosette. Pack them in as tightly as you can.  They’ll shrink.

The dish is then topped with either puff pastry or pate sucre.  I prefer puff.  And yes, this is what we’re doing with the first eight ounces of the rough puff from last week.

On goes the heat and in about five minutes your kitchen will start to smell insanely delicious.

The sugar and butter melt together to create a caramel that the apples cook in until everything is dark gold.

Then it all goes into the over so that the pastry can puff and crisp.  This is a great dinner party dessert.  Have everything ready to go before your guests arrive.  As you sit down to dinner, pop the dough on the top and start the stove.  Just as the group is finish their first course, it’ll be time for the oven.  Forty-five minutes later, you have dessert.

The scariest part of the whole endeavor is flipping the tart upright onto the serving platter.  And even that is no big deal.  If an apple or two sticks to the pan, just pull them off and pop them back into the tarte. NBG.

Serve warm with either vanilla ice cream or a healthy dab of whipped cream.

I swear, once you go tarte tatin, there is no going back.

Tarte Tatin

adapted from the New York Times, recipe by Julia Moskin

Ingredients

  • 8-10 large, firm-fleshed apples (buy a couple of extra–you want to pack the pan tightly)
  • 6 TBS (80g)  salted butter, very soft
  • 2/3 C (135g) granulated or light brown sugar
  • 1 sheet (8 ounces) puff pastry

Directions

  1. At least one day before you plan to cook the tart, prepare the apples: Slice off the bottom of each apple so it has a flat base. Peel and quarter the apples. Use a small sharp knife to trim the hard cores and seeds from the center of each quarter; don’t worry about being too neat. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, lightly covered, for at least one day or up to three days. (This key step reduces the amount of liquid in the tart. Don’t worry if the apples turn brown; they will be browned during the cooking anyway.)
  2. When ready to cook, heat oven to 375 degrees (or 350 if using convection). Thickly coat the bottom of a 10-inch heavy ovenproof skillet, preferably nonstick metal, with butter. Sprinkle sugar evenly on top.
  3. Cut one piece of apple into a thick round disk and place in the center of the skillet to serve as the “button.” Arrange the remaining apple pieces, each one standing on its flat end, in concentric circles around the button. Keep the pieces close together so that they support one another, standing upright. They will look like the petals of a flower.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry about 1/8-inch thick. Place an upside-down bowl or pan on the pastry and use the tip of a sharp knife to cut out a circle about the same size as the top of your skillet. Lift out the circle and drape gently over the apples. Use your hands to tuck the pastry around the apple pieces, hugging them together firmly.
  5. Place the skillet on the stovetop over medium heat until golden-brown juice begins to bubble around the edges, 3 minutes (if the juices keep rising, spoon out as needed to remain level with pastry). If necessary, raise the heat so that the juices are at a boil. Keep cooking until the juices are turning darker brown and smell caramelized, no longer than 10 minutes more.
  6. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until puff pastry is browned and firm.
  7. Let cool 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a round serving plate. (Or, if not serving immediately, let cool completely in the pan; when ready to serve, rewarm for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven before turning out.) If any apples remain stuck in the pan, gently use your fingers or a spatula to retrieve them, and rearrange on the pastry shell. Cut in wedges and serve warm with heavy cream, crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.