You probably know the Tarte Tatin story, describing how to famous pie was accidentally created and then made popular by the Tatin sisters. Was this upside down cake really invented because of a mistake, as the officially accepted story states, we actually don’t know but once you try it, the story is no longer that important.
What I remembered after first making and tasting Tarte Tatin was a true delight coming from the combination of just a few simple, but greatly complementing each other ingredients. And also a joy from the fact that someone’s negligence in the kitchen can lead to a happy and tasty error.
Having looked at so many different versions of the recipe on the web and in various books I wanted to have just one more informed opinion on what’s the “original” Tarte Tatin recipe. So I called my best friend’s mom, who’s not only a great cook but also madly passionate about all things French, to give me her version of the recipe. I only slightly changed couple of things but kept all the ingredients and proportions, and I’m absolutely delighted with the result. So thank you, Maria.
Although there are many recipes that call for vanilla, lemon zest or cinnamon to be added to the apples, which are actually not bad at all, the version of Tarte Tatin we prefer is really simple, with only the apple, butter and caramel.
Preparation & baking time: 70 minutes
1kg apples (preferably firm and tangy types, such as Granny Smith, Cox or Golden Delicious) 50g (1/4 cup) caster sugar 20g (2 tbsp) butter
½ lemon, juice only
For the crust:
200g (2 cups) all purpose flour 100g (1/2 cup) butter 15g (2 tbsp) confectioner’s sugar (powder) 60-70ml (1/4 cup) cold water
½ tsp salt
For this recipe you need a ovenproof frying pan, at least 4cm (1,5 inch) deep, with panhandle so you don’t burn yourself when flipping the cake after baking.
Probably the most difficult part of preparing a Tarte Tatin (at least for me) is arranging the apple pieces in nice pattern in the hot caramel. If that’s the first time you’ll going to make the cake, leave your high esthetical expectations aside and just go for it. You’ll become better with time.
First of all you should prepare the pastry, as it needs to stay in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. In a bowl sift flour, salt and confectioner’s sugar. Grate the cold butter over the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or using a food processor, till the mix resembles breadcrumbs. As with all types of pie crusts you don’t want the butter to become soft or melt, so work it fast, and avoiding as much as possible touching it with hands. Add the cold water to the crumb mixture and stir to combine. Wrap the dough in clink foil and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer.
Prepare the apples – peel and cut them. You’ll probably find your own way to cut the apples – there are really countless variations. The traditional French way calls for thick quarters, Jamie Oliver just halves them horizontally and uses a teaspoon to core and seed them. But if want to be on the safe side, you better go for thinner slices – they are easier to arrange without large gaps and cook quicker.
When all the apples are cut into quite equal wedges (something like 8 to 12 vertical slices from an apple), put them in a bowl and drizzle with the lemon juice. This should prevent the fast browning.
Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/gas 5.
Put the pan on a medium heat, melt the butter and add the sugar. Let the sugar dissolve and cook until the mixture forms a light caramel. Be careful – hot caramel keeps its high temperature for long and can burn you badly. When the caramel is lightly brown, arrange the apples, trying to form a layer without big gaps. Reduce the heat to low and leave them to cook for 10-15 minutes, or until apples start to soften.
Meantime get your pastry out and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. You need a disk of 1/2 cm thick, and large enough to cover the pan, leaving about 3cm extra around the edge.
When the apples are soft, using the rolling pin lay the pastry over the top. Tuck the pastry down right into the edges, but be careful – it’s hot. Pierce the pastry using a sharp knife here and there and press it gently with hands to level everything.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes on the rack set in the middle of the oven. When the tart is golden and caramelly juices are bubbling up from under the edges, take it out of the oven.
You need to turn it over when it is still hot, which shouldn’t be hard if you use a pan with handles. Still, it could be dangerous, so be careful. Just cover the pan with a serving plate or a cutting board, larger than the pan. Pressing the plate against the pan flip it quickly. That’s it!
Well, sometimes few apple pieces may remain stacked to the bottom of the pan, but that’s not a big deal. Just put them back where they belong. We prefer our Tarte Tatin warm (with some vanilla ice cream on the side) but it’s still delicious on the next day.