For the March Daring bakers’ challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen challenged us to make Tarte Tatin from scratch. This classic French dessert is basically the apple pie version of an upside-down cake: apples are caramelized in sugar in a saucepan, covered with pastry and baked, and then inverted on a plate to serve. It’s a great example of the magic of caramelized sugar: the apples take on a deep, rich mahogany colour and become infused with the complex flavours of a well-cooked caramel, and the crisp puff pastry base also becomes practically candied with caramel at the edges, resulting in a fantastic mix of soft, crunchy, and chewy textures.
The tart is named after the Tatin sisters, who ran a hotel near Paris in the 1880s. Apparently, one day one of the sisters forgot to put a bottom crust on her apple pie, but instead of the disaster she was expecting to pull out of the oven, she ended up with a dessert so loved by the hotel guests that it became the hotel’s signature dish. However, this sweet story conflicts with the fact that a similar upside-down apple tart called tarte Solognotte (named after the Sologne region in France) existed long before the tarte Tatin, suggesting that the Tatin sisters’ creation was actually just an updated and improved version of the tarte Solognotte. Either way, it is a stunningly delicious yet simple and rustic dessert.
While apples are the classic and most common filling for tarte Tatin, it can be made with almost any fruit or vegetable, sweet or savoury! Generally, tarte Tatin is baked in a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof saucepan but the filling can first be cooked on the stove in whatever saucepan you have and then transferred to a cake tin, covered with pastry, and baked. The best apples for tarte Tatin can be either tart or sweet, but they should be firm apples that hold their shape during cooking – otherwise you’ll end up with a pan full of applesauce. Good varieties available in North America include Granny Smith, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, and Jonagold.
For my trial version, I used a mixture of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith South African apples and served the finished tarte with vanilla bean ice cream. Like many I thought that the caramel was way too much for the amount of apples in the recipe and was quite afraid to have the apples turn to mush or the pastry base being too soggy. I did not have a heavy saucepan to bake the tarte in so I went ahead with an 8-inch cake tin, double lined with foil to make cleaning up easy, and to my amazement, it turned out beautifully with not a single apple piece sticking to the pan.
For the Rough Puff Pastry
1 cup (250 ml) (4½ oz) (125 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
2/3 cup (160 ml) (5 oz) (140 gm) unsalted butter, cold
¼ teaspoon fine kitchen salt
¼ cup (60 ml) ice cold water
For the Tarte Tatin Filling
6 large or 7-8 medium-sized apples
Juice of half a lemon
6 tablespoons (90 ml) (3 oz) (85 gm) unsalted butter
1-1/3 cups (320 ml) (9½ oz) (265 gm) sugar, divided
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut the butter into small cubes and add it to the flour.
- With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture in crumbly but even, with pea-sized pieces of butter.
- Make a well in the middle and pour in the ice cold water. Toss the flour and butter and water together.
- Combine with a fork until the dough starts to clump together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
- Do not worry if there are still pockets of dry flour. Gently knead and squeeze the mixture a few times.
- Bring it together into a square [a bench scraper is helpful for this]. Be careful not to overwork dough.
- There should be visible bits of butter and it should still look very rough. Lightly flour the work surface.
- Lightly flour the rolling pin as well and roll the dough out into a rectangle about 10 inch (25 cm) long.
- Fold the bottom third of the dough up into the middle and fold the top third down, as in folding a letter.
- This is one fold. Turn the dough a one quarter turn so that one of the open edges faces you and roll out.
- Roll into a 10” (25 cm) rectangle. Fold again [second fold]. Repeat the rolling and folding 3 more times.
- You should make a total of 5 folds and your dough will get smoother and neater looking with each fold.
- If your kitchen is very warm and the dough gets too soft/sticky, chill it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
- After the fifth fold, use your rolling pin to tap the dough into a neat square. Wrap the dough in plastic.
- Chill dough for a least 1 hour, or overnight. For the filling, peel the apples and cut them into quarters.
- Remove the cores in such a way that each apple quarter has a flat inner side, it should sit on a flat base.
- Place apples in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup (80 ml) (2-1/2 oz) (65 gm) sugar.
- This will help draw out some of the moisture from the apples and prevent an overly runny caramel.
- Set apple mixture aside for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375˚F/190°C/gas mark 5.
- Melt the butter in a very heavy, 9” or 10” (23 cm or 24 cm) oven-proof saucepan over medium heat.
- Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup (240 ml) (7 oz) (200 g) sugar. Stir with a whisk until sugar melts.
- It should become a pale and smooth caramel. The sugar will seem dry at first, then it will start to melt.
- If the butter appears to separate out from the caramel, just keep whisking until it is a cohesive sauce.
- Remove from heat. Discard the liquid that has come out and then add the apple quarters to the caramel.
- They won’t all fit in a single layer at first, but as they cook they will shrink a bit. Cook over medium heat.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes, pressing down gently on apples with a spoon to cover them in the caramel liquid.
- Move the apples around the pan gently so that they all cook evenly, trying to keep them round side down.
- The apples should have shrunk to fit in a single layer and are starting to soften but still keep their shape.
- Arrange the apples, round side down in a single layer of concentric circles covering the bottom of the pan.
- Remove pastry from fridge, roll it out and trim it into a circle about 1″diameter larger than the saucepan.
- Lay it over filling, tucking in the edges between the sides of the pan. Cut a few steam vents in the pastry.
- Place the saucepan on a rimmed baking sheet (just in case the filling decides to bubble over the sides).
- Place in the preheated moderately hot 375˚F/190°C/gas mark 5 oven. Bake tart for 30 to 35 minutes.
- Increase oven temperature to moderately hot 400˚F/200°C/gas mark 6 during the last 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let sit just until caramel stops bubbling. Place a serving platter over the pastry.
- Grab hold of the saucepan and platter and quickly invert everything to unmold the tart onto the platter.
- If any of the apples stick to the pan or come out of place, rearrange them onto the tart with a spatula.
- The tarte tatin can be served warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
- It does not keep or store particularly well and it is best served on the same day it is made. Serves 8-10.
Daring Bakers February Challenge