By Diane Rossen Worthington
The first time I tasted this classic, upside-down apple tart, glistening with dark brown liquid caramel and sitting on a crispy puff pastry crust, I was smitten. It didn’t hurt that I had my first slice in a famous Paris pastry shop.
Tarte Tatin is my pick for sweetening up your Valentine’s Day meal. The story goes that two sisters who ran Hotel Tatin were making traditional apple tarts, but one of the sisters dropped a pie on the floor, turned it over and served it as Tarte Tatin. It has other folklore stories attached to its history, but I love the idea of rescuing a dessert into a new variation that has received international acclaim through the years.
I have been making French tarts since I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu decades ago. I always thought Tarte Tatin would be too complicated to make at home. It didn’t seem Seriously Simple to me. How could something this fantastic be easy to make? Turns out that it is easy to prepare with only a few ingredients, as long as you don’t mind peeling and coring some apples.
I recently decided to retest my old recipe to see if home cooks could master the technique and the recipe with good results. It took me three tries to get it right, and I learned a lot along the way.
First of all, make sure to use either a cast-iron skillet or a non-stick skillet for ease in reversing the tart. Second, I tried different store-bought frozen puff pastries. I recommend an all-butter variety. You’ll need to completely defrost it before rolling it out for best results.
Another challenge: the apples. I tried Pippin apples, and my dessert went from Tarte Tatin to Apple Sauce Tart! The apples were too soft when I cooked them. I tried Golden Delicious and still found them to be too soft after baking. Finally, I selected Macintosh and found this variety held up best on the two-step baking process.
Lots of recipes call for quartering the apples, but I like to halve them for a pretty presentation. Once you figure out how to stand the apple halves up and arrange them on the outer rim of your pan, you are in business! Make sure they hug each other tightly, because apples give up space as they cook and you want the tart to look bountiful.
I like to present the tart on a cake stand, and it helps to have someone assist you in reversing it. To serve, accompany with whipped cream, creme fraiche or French vanilla ice cream. Don’t worry if there is a lot left over. It’s amazing how fast it will disappear, and it’s pretty yummy for breakfast the next day.
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, about 8 ounces (store-bought is fine)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 8 to 10 Macintosh apples, peeled, cored and cut in half
- Whipped cream, creme fraiche or French vanilla ice cream, to accompany
- Defrost the puff pastry. Once defrosted, sprinkle a surface with flour and roll out the dough into an 11-inch round so that it will fit over the skillet. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F. In a non-stick ovenproof 10-inch skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the sugar, and stir until combined, about 2 minutes to make a caramel sauce. It may look a little lumpy.
- Place the apple halves, standing on their side, in concentric circles around the edge of the pan. They should be close together so that they support one another, standing upright.
- Place an apple half in the center, using enough apples so that the apples fit very snugly in the pan. Cook the apples and caramel sauce, adjusting the heat to low simmer, for about 12 minutes or until the caramel is dark brown and apples are slightly tender.
- Place the skillet in the oven for about 5 minutes to cook the apples. Remove with oven mitts, and place on a trivet. Carefully place the pastry dough over the top, using a small knife to tuck the excess pastry into the rim of the skillet. Increase the heat to 450 F, and bake another 20 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and brown.
- Remove the skillet from the oven with two oven mitts. Let it rest 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pastry and the skillet to make sure it will invert easily. Invert the tart onto a 12-inch platter. Serve warm or room temperature with whipped cream, creme fraiche or French vanilla ice cream.
By Diane Rossen Worthington
Diane is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.