The tarte Tatin is one of the most beloved of all French recipes: an upside-down pastry in which the fruit (usually apples) is caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked.
Legend says that the tarte Tatin was first created accidentally at the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, about 100 miles (160 km) south of Paris, in the 1880s.
The hotel was run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. There are conflicting stories concerning the tart’s origin, but the most common is that Stéphanie Tatin, who did most of the cooking, was overworked one day.
She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert.
Truth be told, a version of this dish had been served around the Sologne region for many years, but regardless of its origins the tarte Tatin has an impassioned and devoted following. It even has its own “secret society”, the Confrerie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin, dedicated to guarding and communicating the “true” version of the recipe.
This is the “genuine” recipe, adapted from the Confrerie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin. It is the recipe as held by Le Grand Maître du Secret, which I have slightly tweaked to include a touch of vanilla in the sugar to add a bit of complexity. I am also using ½ turbinado sugar for better caramelization and my own personal suggestion of ideal Apples.
I also use a great trick that prevents the tart from becoming too juicy: peeling the apples the night before and putting them to dry in the fridge.
Feel free to omit my changes to create the canonical version of the recipe – the original called for Golden Delicious apples. No matter which version you use, it will be spectacularly delicious, Citizens!
Battle On – The Generalissimo
For the dough:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
6 tablespoons ice water
For the apple mixture:
⅔ cup best-quality unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar, mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
½ cup turbinado sugar
2 medium Gala apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters the previous night and left in the refrigerator
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters the previous night and left in the refrigerator
1 medium Cameo apple, peeled, cored and cut into quarters the previous night and left in the refrigerator
1 medium Gravenstein apple, peeled, cored and cut into quarters the previous night and left in the refrigerator (if Gravenstein is not available, use a Cameo instead)
Sift together the flour and salt into a medium bowl. Using a pastry cutter, work in half the butter until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Cut in the rest of the butter, using a fork, until the dough becomes crumbly.
Adding one tablespoon at a time, distribute the ice water over the crumbles and mix until the dough just holds together. Again, use a fork as needed, and add extra ice water if the dough is too dry.
Roll the dough into a 12-inch round, place on wax paper and put in the refrigerator till ready to fill.
Move an oven rack into the upper third of your oven and heat the oven to 375°.
Melt butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the peeled apples and to fit in your oven. Sprinkle the sugars onto the melted butter. Arrange the apples, side by side with the curved side down, filling the gaps with large slices.
Heat the mixture in your skillet on medium heat, letting the mixture cook for 10-12 minutes until the apple juices turn to deep amber. This will caramelize the apple mixture.
Then place the skillet in the heated oven. When the mixture is bubbling and the apples have started to become tender at the end of the allotted time (for approximately ¼ of an hour), turn each apple piece over, so as to cook the formerly exposed side in the mixture. Keep the stove on, but cook the second side of the apples for only about 5 minutes.
Take out your pastry dough, which should be slightly larger than the diameter of the arranged apple mixture, and put the dough on top of the apple mixture (the mixture has to remain in the skillet).
Gently tuck the edges of the dough against the inside walls of the skillet, being careful not to burn yourself. Then put it back in the oven until the crust turns a deep, golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes.
Loosen the edges of the tart with a knife or a flipper. Place a serving dish over your mold and turn out quickly. Serve immediately. You can let the tarte stand at room temperature for up to 8 hours (see note below for re-heating).
Simply serve as it is, that’s it.
Tips, Suggestions and Comments:
If you prepare your tart in this way, the apples will be impregnated with the natural caramel resulting from the combination of the cooked sugar, butter and the juice of the apples, taking on the smoothness and exceptional taste that characterize the genuine Tarte Tatin.
Under these conditions, the addition of cream or flaming with alcohol on service would simply change this unique taste: thus it is to be avoided.
If the tart has been prepared previously, heat in a low oven for 10 or so minutes before serving.
Never heat a Tarte Tatin in a microwave oven because the pastry would be affected.
To accompany your Tarte Tatin, why not try a light red wine (from Sologne for instance) or an excellent cider?