In the mid- 19th century, the story goes, the demoiselles Tatin were left penniless when their father died. Luckily they lived just opposite the new railroad station at Lamotte-Beuvron, a small town south of Orleans. So they took in travelers and baked the crusty, dark apple tart their father had loved so much. Fortune smiled, and the Hotel Tatin is there to this day, still serving a remarkable tart baked in a wood-fired oven and topped with chunks of lightly singed caramelized apple.
The apples must be firm and hold their shape during long cooking. I suggest Pink Lady or Golden Delicious, but there are many other suitable varieties. To ensure the all-important dark caramel, my tart is cooked first on top of the stove, patiently, so the apple halves get thoroughly drenched in the buttery caramel. Once the apples are tender and mahogany colored, I cover them with a plain pastry dough and finish the tart in the oven. The tart is best turned out and served when it is tepid, and it is hard to beat the classic accompaniment of crème fraîche, though a scoop of vanilla ice cream also does nicely.–Anne Willan
Tarte Tatin | Upside-Down Caramelized Apple Tart
Serves 8 to 10
Special Equipment: 10-to-11-inch tatin mold
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Sift the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the center. Put the egg yolk, salt, and water in the well. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it, add it to the well, and work the ingredients in the well with the fingers of one hand until thoroughly mixed. Using a pastry scraper, gradually draw in the flour from the sides of the well and continue working with both hands until coarse crumbs form. If the crumbs seem dry, sprinkle with another tablespoon of water; the crumbs should be soft but not sticky. Gently press the crumbs into a ball; the dough will be uneven and unblended at this point.
To blend the dough, sprinkle the work surface with flour and put the dough on it. With the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you, flattening it against the work surface. Gather it up, press it into a rough ball, and flatten it again. This flattening motion evenly blends the butter with the other ingredients without overworking the dough. Work quickly so the butter doesn’t get too warm. Continue until the dough is as pliable as putty and pulls away from the surface in one piece, 1 to 2 minutes. Shape it into a ball, wrap, and chill until firm, 15 to 30 minutes. Pâte brisée may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Peel and halve the apples; scoop out the cores with a melon baller or the point of a paring knife.
Melt the butter in the mold, sprinkle in the sugar, and cook over medium heat without stirring until it starts to brown and caramelize. Stir gently, then continue cooking until the caramel is a deep golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes total. Let cool in the pan for 3 to 5 minutes. The butter will separate, but this does not matter.
Arrange the apples in the mold in concentric circles, with the cut sides standing vertically. The caramel will help to anchor them. Pack them as tightly as possible, as they will shrink during cooking. Cook the apples over medium heat until the juice starts to run, about 8 minutes, then raise the heat and cook them as fast as possible until the underside is caramelized to a deep gold and most of the juice has evaporated, 15 to 25 minutes.
With a two-pronged fork, turn the apples one by one so the upper sides are now down in the caramel. Continue cooking until this second side is brown also and almost all the juice has evaporated, 10 to 20 minutes more. The time will vary with the variety and ripeness of the apples, and can take up to 1 hour total. Let them cool to tepid while heating the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Roll out the pastry dough to a round just larger than the mold. Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and transfer it to cover the apples. Tuck the edges down around the apples, working quickly so the apples’ warmth does not melt the dough. Poke a hole in the center of the dough to allow steam to escape. Bake the tart until the pastry is firm and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes.
Take the tart from the oven and let it cool for at least 10 minutes, or until it is tepid. Tarte tatin may be made up to 12 hours ahead and kept in the mold in the refrigerator (if using a cast-iron skillet, the tart must be turned out immediately).
To finish, if necessary, warm the tart in the mold on the stove top before you turn it out, to soften the caramel and loosen the apples. Select a flat platter with a lip to catch any juices; invert the platter on top of the tart pan and flip the tart onto the platter. Be careful because you can be splashed with hot juice. Cut into wedges to serve.
Tarte Tatin | Upside-Down Caramelized Apple Tart Recipe © 2007 Anne Willan. Photo © 2007 France Ruffenach. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.