My mother made caramel apples every autumn, spearing apples with wooden sticks, dipping and twirling them into hot, bubbling caramel, and then placing them on paper-lined trays to cool and harden, which seemed to take an eternity. I loved them. Ever since, the combination of apple and caramel has been a favorite of mine.
This tarte Tatin is my mother’s caramel apple all dressed up, French style. It’s essentially apples, enveloped with caramel and butter, resting on a thin crust of pastry. A fancy upside-down tart. The secret to making this dessert is patience and your choice of apples. I’ve been using Ida Reds, which have great flavor and hold their shape. If you can’t find Idas, try Northern Spy, or ask your supplier to recommend an apple with good flavor that won’t turn to mush when cooked for a long time. Eschew the common Granny Smith, MacIntosh, and Red Delicious. Although there are specialized Tatin pans I simply use my 9-inch cast-iron frying pan.–Jennifer McLagan
LC Pastry Prospects Note
French for “caramely apple goodness turned upside down on buttery pastry,” this tarte Tatin comes together with a lot of love, a lot of apples, a lot of that aforementioned caramely goodness, and a little pastry crust. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but for some of you, we know, pastry requires a lot of courage. If challenged by time or fear, you could simply swap out the lovely made-from-scratch pastry recipe below for store-bought puff pastry. Just be sure to splurge on the pricey but lovely all-butter Dufour puff pastry rather than the inexpensive and chemically-tasting one from Pepperidge Farm. (Mind you, puff pastry won’t be better. Just quicker. And please don’t tell Jennifer McLagan we even hinted at the prospect of not using her recipe, which draws on both butter and lard. The author of Fat and Odd Bits, she certainly knows her animal fats and their role in a quintessential homemade pastry crust.)
Tarte Tatin Recipe
Hands-On Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes | Serves 6
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- A pinch of salt
- 5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) cold fat, diced (I prefer half butter and half lard, but all butter works, too)
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 6 medium or 8 small apples
- 7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) butter
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1. Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the fat and pulse until it becomes granular, then dump the mixture into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of cold water and mix with a fork. Squeeze some of the mixture between your fingertips. If it holds together, it’s fine; if not, add a little more cold water, but don’t add too much or your pastry will shrink during baking. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together, this takes a minute or two. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate while you tend to the apples.
- 2. Peel and halve the apples lengthwise. Remove the core with a melon baller and trim out the rest of the core with a knife.
- 3. Melt the butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, sprinkle the sugar over the top, then nestle the apples in the sugar, cut side up. They should fit snugly alongside one another. (You must pack the apples into the pan because they shrink as they cook.) The sugar and butter should bubble up around the apples. Continue to cook, without stirring, for 30 to 45 minutes, until the caramel is well colored and the apples are soft. Shake the pan from time to time to detach the apples from the bottom and to ensure the caramel cooks evenly, but do not stir. (As I am type A and like to fiddle, I carefully reverse the apples in the caramel so the half that has been sitting out of the pan is submerged.) Cook until the caramel is well colored and the apples are soft when you prod them with a spoon.
- 4. While the apples are cooking, roll the pastry into a circle a smidge bigger than the diameter of the frying pan. Cover and refrigerate it.
- 5. Crank the oven to 425°F (220°C).
- 6. Now you must be patient as the apples slouch into their caramely, buttery bath. When they’re ready, remove the pan from the heat and place on a baking sheet so it will be easier to maneuver in and out of the oven. Take the pastry disk from the refrigerator. Wait until the caramel stops bubbling, and then place the pastry on top, pushing down on the edges to cover the apples and tuck it inside the rim of the pan.
- 7. Place the pan in the oven and bake about 25 minutes, or until the pastry is nicely browned. Remove the pan from the baking sheet and place it on a cooling rack. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to detach the pastry and the apples from the sides and then leave for 10 minutes (but no more than 10 minutes). To pass the time, line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper.
- 8. Now don’t think too much about the next step – just do it. Place the parchment-lined baking sheet, paper side down, on top of the frying pan. Flip the frying pan over onto the baking sheet and then use the pan to centre the tart on the paper. Slowly lift the frying pan off the tart. Usually all the apples drop onto the pastry, if not, you can place them and scrape any remaining caramel from the pan onto the tart. I like to scoop up the extra caramel from the parchment paper and place it back onto the tart. [Editor’s Note: We like to scoop up the extra caramel from the parchment paper and nibble it as we stand back and admire the tart.] Let the tart cool to room temperature and serve with whipped cream.
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Tarte Tatin Recipe © 2011 Jennifer McLagan. Photo © 2011 Jennifer McLagan. All rights reserved.