Friday, 3 August 2012

Tarte Tatin

Oh Tarte Tatin, how do I love thee.  Or do I just love the idea of you.

Tarte Tatin is a rather simple dessert, from France, that I love everything about, except I can't eat much of it.  It is too rich, but I still seem to be in love with making it, eating a bit of it, then refusing to finish it. But perhaps your sweet teeth are more vigilant than mine.

The short history of Tarte Tatin is that it was a mistake.  Two sisters, the Tatin sisters, ran a hotel.  One of the sisters started making an apple pie but left the apples cooking in the butter and sugar too long.  Rather than start over, she cleverly threw a sheet of puff pastry over the pan and put it in the oven to finish baking.  She turned it out, upside-down, on a serving tray and all the guests loved it. And because of her bumbling incompetence/genius, we now have the world famous Tarte Tatin.

Tarte Tatin, served with
mascarpone cheese
I will probably be chastised by purists and experts on Tarte Tatin.  I welcome their input; perhaps I can make a better tarte with their constructive criticism. I make no claims to authenticity, my recipe is a Frankenstein's monster of several recipes I have read.

You can use any oven-proof shallow pan, I use a 24cm (9.5 in) carbon steel crepe pan.  Let me sidetrack for a minute to gush about it.  I LOVE my carbon steel crepe pan.  You can see it some of the images below, it has a shallow lip and geometry that makes it easy to flip crepes with a spatula.  It is a bit of work with the seasoning and special care to prevent corrosion, but the results are amazing. And it cost me only $25.

Warning! This recipe uses a caramel, made from boiling sugar and liquid.  This is like really yummy napalm.  Be very careful when handling napalm and caramel. Take your time, be safe, wear asbestos gloves if they are available.  Just don't burn yourself, and make sure there are no kids running around the kitchen.

Today we will be making an Apple Tarte Tatin, but you can use other fruit, like pear, should you like.  In the folly of youth (about four weeks ago) I made one with apple and prune. It was great!

Very much! (How do you like
them apples?)
To get started, preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F).

Peel, core and quarter

4 or 5 medium size apples
Preferably use two or three varieties, sweet and tart.  All I had available were Pink Lady (sweet and tart) and Royal Gala (sweet).

In a shallow, oven-proof frypan (did I mention my excellent carbon steel crepe pan?) bring to the boil

100g (3oz) caster sugar
100ml (3 fl oz) brandy/Grand Marnier/Cognac/Calva
1t vanilla paste/essence

The caramel won't thicken until the ghosts
have been boiled out

This will start to thicken into a caramel, and once the thickening has started, add the apples to the pan and cook until the apples start to soften.  This may take upwards of five minutes.  Turn the apples occasionally to cook evenly and coat with the caramel.

Once the caramel is thick and the apples nearly cooked, dab

50g (2oz) butter
in small chunks all around the apples in the pan.

Sweet dreams little apples
(note the lined baking tray underneath)
Throw a sheet of puff pastry over the pan. I find it best to pack the apples together as closely as possible and tucking the pastry in with my fingers (careful!) or with a wooden spoon. You can cut the pastry to size and shape, but I am pretty lazy and just use a single square sheet and fold the corners up back over the tarte. These little pastry ears will end up underneath the tarte once we turn it out, no one will see them.

Before putting the pan with the tarte in the oven, I recommend putting the pan on a baking tray that is lined with baking paper.  You don't want caramel spitting or dribbling onto the oven floor.  It will turn to toffee and will be very difficult to remove.  Go on, use a tray, no need to be a hero.

Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is golden.

To turn the tarte out, place the serving plate over the tarte that is still in the frypan.  With once swift motion, over a sink, away from children and stray dwarfs, carefully flip the tarte onto the plate.


Serve with creme fraîche, mascarpone cheese, double cream or ice cream.

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