Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tarte Tatin

So I totally wasn’t kidding about how it’s all French Food all the time at my house. I’ve made two tarte tatins in the past week. I think I’m going to throw in a lemon tart next week to shake things up, but tarte tatin shows every sign of becoming my new go-to dessert.

And how has it achieved this exalted status? Like my apple pie cookies (and yet: so unlike), tarte tatin has all the great flavors of apple pie for a fraction of the effort. Actually, I prefer it, as I can do without the cinnamon that is de rigueur in American apple pie. Tarte tatin omits superfluous spices and focuses on the core ingredients of sugar, butter, flour, and apples.

Does preferring a French version of apple pie to the American version make me unpatriotic? Or merely lazy?

As with potatoes dauphinois, I use the slicing blade on my food processor to cut my apples. This means I don’t get a lovely floral-shaped apple circle, as I’ve seen with some versions of tarte tatin, but it saves a lot of work. You don’t need to pre-cook the apples in the caramel before throwing this into the oven when you use very thin slices, as they will caramelize just fine as they bake. Using very thin slices of apple also seemed to be the way they did it in France, where I had tarte tatin four times in six days. If that’s how they do it there, it can’t be such a culinary sin.

I’ve been using a clear glass pie tin that goes from stove-to-oven for this. I think it’s only an 8” pan, but a 9” pan would probably be fine. Other tarte tatin recipes I’ve seen call for cast iron skillets, but using the clear glass makes it much easier to monitor the caramel’s color and pull it off the stove at just the right instant. I really am quite indolent, and this recipe rewards my inner sloth.

Maybe that’s the real secret of French cuisine: lazier than you think, tastier than you could have ever dreamed. I think it has something to do with fat content.

Between the two of us, my husband and I polish off a tarte tatin in about three days, which is just about as long as you’d want one sitting around the fridge anyway.

Tarte Tatin
Adapted from I Know How to Cook

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cold
2 tablespoons to ¼ cup ice water

Whisk together flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in butter using your hands, a pastry cutter, a fork, two knives, or whatever other method you’ve devised to incorporate fat into flour. Add water a tablespoon at a time until dough adheres. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

1 ¼ lbs apples (I’ve used both Golden Delicious and Pink Lady to good effect)
2/3 cup white sugar, divided (reserve 2 tablespoons) (I have also used vanilla sugar to good effect, or you could add a drop or two of vanilla to the caramel to punch up its flavor)
1 tablespoon water
1/8- ¼ tsp. salt
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Make the crust and be sure it’s had enough time to chill. Rumor has it one can also use phyllo dough instead of a pastry crust, but I’m not especially keen on phyllo. However, if you like it and don’t feel like making crust, feel free to use it as a shortcut – I don’t know how this might affect the baking time.

Peel and core the apples. Cut into very thin slices – I use the slicing attachment of my food processor to do this. Let them sit; don’t worry about browning, as these apples are going to get plenty more brown in the process of baking.

Preheat oven to 400. In a stove and oven-safe glass or cast iron dish (8-9”), place 2/3 cup minus two tablespoons white sugar, salt, and a tablespoon of water. Caramelize on the stove over medium high heat until the caramel is medium dark, stirring as needed with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon. Remove from heat and place apple slices atop the caramel. This will cool the caramel so it stops cooking and will soften the apples. Sprinkle the top of the apples with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and dot the top with butter. I add another sprinkling of salt here, as I do think caramel desserts need it to achieve their full potential.  It will look something like this:

There's probably a perfectly good reason for the bouillon cube wrapper in the corner of that picture, but it has nothing to do with tarte tatin.

Let it sit there for a few minutes while you roll out the crust until it’s just big enough to cover the apples, with maybe a 1” lip – you’ll want to try to make it as circular as possible and will not want to roll it very thin. Place the crust atop the apples and tuck any loose ends underneath the rim of the pie plate. Cut a couple of steam holes in the top of the crust.

Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. When you take it out of the oven, invert immediately onto a large plate. Can be served hot or cold; I enjoy it with a drizzle of heavy cream poured over the top. Serves 6 easily, 8 if you’re not gluttons (but at my house, we are gluttons).

Printable recipe here.


  1. What's next? Macarons? :-)

  2. Maybe ... ;)

    Honestly, I like macarons, but not so much that they're at the top of my French baking list.

  3. cinnamon is overated - the French understand the beauty of the flavor of the apple