Blog-checking lines: For the March Daring Bakers’ challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch.
This month’s challenge was to make the classic French dessert Tarte Tatin. Tarte Tatin is basically an upside-down single-crust pie. It is traditionally made with apples and caramel, but can be made with other fruits and even vegetables. The legend/story of the tarte tatin begins in Paris in the 1880s at a hotel run by the Tatin sisters. As the story goes, one of the sisters forgot to put the bottom crust on an apple pie so she flipped it over and served it as a tart. However, this fun story conflicts with a similar upside-down apple tart called tarte Solongnotte (named after the Sologne region) which existed before the tarte tatin. Whichever story you believe, tarte tatin is a nice dessert to have in your repertoire as it is classy, yet simple and delicious.
The Tarte Tatin starts with an easy quick puff-pastry crust. It’s really no harder than pie crust and in fact, it always comes out better for me than pie crust does. A simple dough is made by cutting cold butter into flour but not as finely as for pie crust as the large chunks of butter are what helps the dough puff. After mixing in water, the dough is rolled out into a rectangle and then folded from top and then bottom to make a packet. The dough is rotated, rolled and folded again. This process, which is akin to lamination for croissants but without the butter slab, is repeated 5 times and creates a dough which will puff nicely when baked. The finished dough will be quite smooth. The dough can be made a day ahead and even frozen.
When ready to make the tart, quartered apples are tossed with sugar and set aside to extract some of the juices. Meanwhile, sugar and butter is cooked in a heavy frying pan until a smooth caramel forms.
The drained apples are cooked in the caramel sauce for 10-15 minutes until slightly softened but not soft enough to lose their shape.
If the skillet is oven-proof, the crust can be rolled out and placed on top of the apples in the skillet and baked right in the pan. If, like me, you don’t own an oven-proof skillet, the apples and caramel can be transferred to a cake pan.
The dough is rolled out and tucked over the apples and the tarte is then baked until the dough is puffy and golden brown.
Just as soon as the caramel stops bubbling, just a minute or two, the tarte is turned over onto a serving platter. It’s a little messy, but glistens beautifully! The tarte can be served warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream alongside. However, it is best served the day it is made.
- Puff Pastry:
- 1 cup (250 ml) (4½ oz) (125 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
- ⅔ cup (160 ml) (5 oz) (140 gm) unsalted butter, cold
- ¼ tsp fine salt
- ¼ cup (60 ml) ice cold water
- Tarte Tatin:
- 6 large or 7-8 medium-sized apples (firm, tart cooking apples such as Granny Smith or Pippen)
- Juice of half a lemon
- 6 tablespoons (90 ml) (3 oz) (85 gm) unsalted butter (or use salted and skip the salt)
- 1-1/3 cups (320 ml) (9½ oz) (265 gm) granulated sugar, divided
- pinch salt
- Rough Puff Pastry, above
- Make the puff pastry:
- 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 (or two table knives) cut in the butter until the 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/butter and water together with a fork until the dough starts to clump together.
- Turn the dough out onto your work surface – don’t worry if there are still pockets of dry flour. Gently knead and squeeze the mixture a few times just enough to bring it together into a square (a bench scraper is helpful for this). Be careful not to overwork the dough: there should be visible bits of butter and it should still look very rough.
- Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin, and roll the dough out into a rectangle about 10” (25 cm) long. Fold the bottom third of the dough up into the middle, and fold the top third down, like you are folding a letter. This is one fold. Turn the dough a one quarter turn so that one of the open edges is facing you, and roll out again into a 10” (25 cm) rectangle. Fold again - this is the second fold. Repeat the rolling and folding 3 more times, for 5 folds total. Your dough will get smoother and neater looking with each fold (the pictures show the first and fifth folds).
- If your kitchen is very warm and the dough gets too soft/sticky to do all the folds at once, chill it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes between folds. After the fifth fold, use your rolling pin to tap the dough into a neat square. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for a least 1 hour, or overnight.
- Make the Tarte:
- Peel the apples and cut them into quarters. Remove the cores in such a way that each apple quarter has a flat inner side: when placed rounded-side-up, it should sit on a flat base. Place the apples in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice and ⅓ 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 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, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup (240 ml) (7 oz) (200 gm) sugar. Stir with a whisk until the sugar melts and becomes a pale, smooth caramel. The sugar will seem dry and chunky at first, then will start to melt and smooth out. If the butter appears to separate out from the caramel, just keep whisking until it is a cohesive sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Discard the liquid that has come out of the apples, then add the apple quarters to the caramel, round side down. They won’t all fit in a single layer at first, but as they cook they will shrink a bit. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, pressing down gently on the 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. When the apples have shrunk enough to mostly fit in a single layer and are starting to soften but still keep their shape, remove the pan from the heat.
- With a wooden spoon, arrange the apples, round side down, in a single layer of concentric circles covering the bottom of the pan. Set aside until the filling stops steaming before covering with pastry.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, and trim it into a circle about 1” (25 mm) in diameter larger than your saucepan. Lay it over the filling, tucking in the edges between the apples and the sides of the pan, and 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) and place in the preheated moderately hot 375˚F/190°C/gas mark 5 oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, increasing the oven temperature to moderately hot 400˚F/200°C/gas mark 6 during the last 5 – 10 minutes of baking if the pastry isn’t browning properly.
- Remove from the oven and let sit just until the caramel stops bubbling. Immediately place a serving platter (slightly larger in diameter than the saucepan) over the pastry. Wearing oven mitts, grab hold of the saucepan and platter and quickly invert everything to unmold the Tatin onto the platter. If any of the apples stick to the pan or come out of place, rearrange them with a spatula. The tarte Tatin can be served warm from the oven or at room temperature. Suggested accompaniments include vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or crème fraîche.