After returning from our recent trip to Europe, including a week in Paris, I had to try making some of the wonderful desserts we had in France. First on my list was the delicious apple dessert known as the Tarte Tatin. This is an “upside down” apple tart. It’s upside down because the apples are cooked in a pan on the bottom with the crust on top, and then the whole thing is inverted to serve. It starts with a sugar and butter caramel sauce, to which the apples are added and finally the pastry crust. As you can see in the photo, it creates beautiful golden, buttery caramel apples. Serve it warm or cold with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or creme fraiche.
Making this wonderful dessert is quite easy, just taking a little time and patience. Please don’t be put off by the number of steps in the instructions below. I’ve intentionally broken down the instructions into smaller steps. I think this is actually a bit easier than making a standard American apple pie, and its flavor is subtly more complex. If you are like me, and have not yet mastered mixing and rolling out pastry dough, do feel free to cheat a little and use one of those ready-made circles of refrigerator unbaked pie crust from the grocery store.
- 3–4 pounds apples (a fairly firm apple suitable for pies and baking, Golden Delicious work well)
- lemon juice
- ½ cup sugar
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 ounces pastry dough (i.e. for a single shell pie)
- 9- or 10-inch, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof frying pan (such as a cast-iron skillet, but I quite successfully used an All-Clad 9-inch “French skillet” for my tart)
- bulb baster
- a cover suitable for the pan you are using
- a flat serving dish large enough for the finished tarte tatin
- Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Then cut into ⅛–¼ inch slices.
- Mix the apple slices with a little lemon juice (to prevent browning and add a touch of flavor) and ½ cup sugar.
- Let the apples sit for 20-30 minutes and then drain off the accumulated juices.
- In the frying pan you are going to use to bake your tart, melt the butter over moderately high heat.
- When the butter is melted, stir in the remaining cup of sugar. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula for several minutes. As the water in the butter boils off the mixture will first become dry and sandy. Later, as the sugar begins the melt and caramelize, it will start to turn a golden caramel color. When it is a nice caramel brown and bubbly, remove from the heat. It need not be smoothly mixed at this stage.
- Carefully arrange a bottom layer of apples in an attractive pattern across the bottom of the frying pan. I arranged them with the curved sides outward, slightly overlapping in concentric rings. Then fill in the remaining apples on top of the first layer and caramel syrup, closely packed. You need not fuss about pretty arrangements here. The apples may heap up to 1 inch above the top of the pan.
- Begin preheating your oven to 425° F.
- Meanwhile, return the pan to the stove over moderately high eat and cook the apples for a total of about 20–25 minutes. Gently press them down as they soften, frequently basting the apples with the accumulated syrup and apple juices. This will help distribute the caramel syrup and buttery flavor throughout the tart. When the apples cook down sufficiently, cover the pan and continue cooking and basting until the juices are thickened.
- Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes while preparing the crust.
- Roll out the chilled pastry dough until about 3/16 inches thick and about 1 inch wider than the top of the pan.
- Cut 4 or 5 small steam vents in the crust.
- Carefully fold the dough in half and then in quarters and center the point over the apples. Gently unfold the crust.
- Try to coax the edges of the dough down between the side of the pan and the apples. (I used a small silicone spatula to help do this. Don’t worry too much about it being ultra neat. Let it look “rustic” if necessary.)
- Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 425° F.
- Being careful to note that the handle will be very hot, remove the pan from the oven.
- Tilt the pan to be sure that the juices are a reasonably thick syrup and not runny. If the juices are runny, place on top of the stove and heat rapidly to boil down the mixture, taking care not to evaporate the syrup completely and cause the apples to stick to the pan.
- Turn the serving dish upside down over the apples and crust. Again remembering the very hot handle, turn the tart and plate upside down to unmold the tart. If necessary, rearrange apple slices to tidy up the presentation, as they can sometimes slip or a few stick to the pan.
- Serve hot or cold with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or ice cream.
Recipe adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child