Tarte Tatin

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Photo: David Gill

It is said that Curnonsky, the legendary and oft-quoted gastro-person, made the 167-kilometre journey by train from Paris to Lamotte-Beuvron near Orléans just to eat the apple tarte renversée that we know today as Tarte Tatin. It was cooked for him at the Hotel-Terminus Tatin by the sisters Tatin, who are credited with its invention.

The tart is characterized by the use of halved apples baked in caramel with the pastry lid becoming the base when the cooked tart is inverted to be served still warm. It is one of those dishes which sounds simple and is actually difficult to get right On average it takes a cook in my kitchen a week of trying before he or she produces a saleable tart.

In the restaurant we use a frying pan rather than a cake pan, and I prefer crisp English apples like Worcester Pearmain or Braemar to Le Golden, which the French choose as a matter of national honour. I believe the original recipe uses sweet shortcrust pastry, but I like puff and find bought frozen puff pastry good enough for domestic interpretations. Anyway, since it will be drenched with sugary juices, the quality of the pastry is not the most significant part of the finished dish.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g/1 lb best-quality frozen puff pastry
  • 12 sharp eating apples
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 85 g/3 oz caster sugar
  • 55 g/2 oz butter

Utensils

  • large bowl
  • non-stick heavy frying pan with ovenproof handle
  • stainless steel saucepan (if necessary)
  • plate the same size as the top of the frying pan
  • serving or dinner plate slightly larger than the pan
  • bulb baster

Method

Mise en Place

If using frozen puff pastry, remove it from the freezer in plenty of time.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas4 • Peel and core the apples, turning them in the lemon juice in a bowl to prevent discoloration. Cut them in half, squaring off the ends.

Cooking

Put the sugar into the frying pan over a low heat to caramelize. Turn the pan from time to time as the heat never distributes evenly and you want to avoid burning.

The colour must however, be a dark nut-brown. If your frying pan is black and you are not sure about the colour, make the caramel in a stainless steel pan and pour into the frying pan when it has reached a suitably dark brown. If it burns, then you must throw it away and start again or the end result will be horribly bitter, but if there is only one small burnt patch, don’t worry about it When the caramel is ready, remove the pan from the heat.

Dot the surface of the caramel with a little of the butter cut into small pieces and pack the apples tightly on top as follows: put an entire half apple in the centre, cut side upwards; cut the remaining apples into quarters and arrange them in a wheel around it. This should use up 8 of the apples. Fill in any gaps with wedges cut from the remaining 4 apples. The apples shrink inwards during cooking, so the tighter you pack them, the better. The final arrangement should stand proud of the rim of the pan when viewed from the side.

Dot the top of the apples with the remaining butter and put the pan back on a low heat for 5 minutes to melt the caramel and start the apples cooking.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm/1/8in. Using as a template a plate with the same circumference as the pan, cut a circle out of the pastry. Fold the circle of pastry in half, then fold in half again to make a quarter. Lay this carefully on the apples and unfold to cover them completely. Tuck the edges of the pastry inside the pan at the edges.

Immediately put the pan into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. The apples will be cooked and have expanded, pushing the pastry up. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. If there appears to be a lot of watery fluid around the edges, extract some of it using a bulb baster.

Now the moment of truth: cover the top of the pan with your serving plate. Holding the pan by the handle (wearing an oven glove because it will still be hot), invert so that the pastry base is now against the surface of the plate, with the rim outside the circumference of the pan. Sit the plate on the table, rap the bottom of the pan smartly with a suitable implement and lift away from the tart.

At this point shout triumphantly as the caramel-glossed Tarte Tatin smiles at you in rustic perfection; or, as may well be the case, burst into tears as overcooked apples cling tenaciously to the toffee in the pan and you contemplate an unattractive mess.

Serving

Serve while still warm.

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