Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tarte Tatin

I made a pretty good Tarte Tatin a few days ago. If I may say so myself.

First, I caramelized the apples in butter and sugar for a long time over fairly high heat. I bit my finger-nails as I waited for the characteristic burnt-sugar smell. The apples looked done well before that but I wanted a dark caramel, and was prepared to risk burning the apples in the attempt.

Then I tucked the dough over the top. I used a fairly large proportion of whole grain flour, which made the pie even more rustic. Perhaps I'll cut back a little next time.

Then I baked the pie. I left it as is for a few hours, then gently warmed it in the oven before turning it over.

Before I served it, one of our guests said his mother makes the best Tarte Tatin ever. Did this make me nervous? Not a bit. That's how confident I felt about my pie! For once.

Tarte Tatin Recipe

Update April 9: I made the recipe yesterday and found the top of the apples weren't caramelized enough. So I've increased the sugar amount from 80g to 100g.

Update April 16: After making it for Easter I've added a few comments here and there

Ingredients for 6-8

1 recipe pie dough (pâte brisée or basic pie dough or purchased dough, not too sweet. Some use puff pastry, I never have tried). I think, but I don't entirely rember, that I used: 1 ½ cup flour -- of which a small part can be whole wheat -- mixed with ¼ tsp salt, into which I cut and quickly pinched with my fingers ½ cup cold butter in small pieces, after which I added a little cold water to bind it all together, keeping handling to a minimum.
1.2 kg or 6 or 8 medium size apples of a tart variety. I don't know the name of the kind I used -- you can see it in the photo above -- but I hear Granny Smith is good too.
Lemon juice (optional)
• About 60g butter (or a ¼ cup), or more if you dare
• About 100g sugar (1/2 cup)
If you're tempted to reduce the sugar or butter amounts, beware, I already significantly reduced them from the recipe I worked from (sorry I don't remember the source).

Prepare the pie dough, roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper to a circle a little wider than the pie pan. Using scissors, cut the dough with the paper to the right size and place it in the refrigerator for 30 min to a day.

Cut the apples into quarters, peel and take out seeds
Sprinkle lemon juice to keep them white

Preheat oven to 190°C (375 F)
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet that can go into the oven. I used a copper-coated tarte tatin dish, but a cast iron skillet must work as well.
Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the butter.
Arrange the apples in circles on top, round side down but slightly at an angle to fit more into the dish.
Fit smaller pieces wherever there seems to be a hole.

Turn the heat on medium-high, and cook until caramel is quite dark. You can rotate the pan around and tip it so the caramel spreads evenly. Some recommend turning the apples over with the tip of a knife to coat all sides with caramel. I've tried it but don't really see the point unless you are concerned the apples themselves are burning a little. Try one or two to see if they look burnt and if not, don't bother.

Once you start smelling burnt sugar (almost an unpleasant smell) take the apples off the stove and let them cool a little. The burnt sugar gives a slightly bitter taste to the caramel that contrasts nicely with the sweet apple flavor. You can add a few left-over apple pieces in thin slices on top of the caramelized apples, to add thickness to the pie (update April 16: actually, I don't recommend adding apple slices. The problem with adding apples after the fact is it creates too much juice, and the juice waters down the caramel, so that the apples may taste of caramel but they won't have that nice syrupy glaze) (Update to the update, a few hours later: wait. Maybe the excess juice was because the caramelization went too fast today. I was surprised that it only took about 10 or 15 min. to caramelize, probably because I used my strongest burner.)

*** In the past I've made the recipe to this point several hours or even the day before continuing with the rest, and the result was fine, though I don't know if I recommend it if you want the best looking tarte tatin possible. Would have to experiment some more to say if it is a good idea or not. It might be better to do as I did in this case, that is prepare the whole tarte a few hours ahead of time and leave it in the dish (see below for instructions). ***

Remove dough from refrigerator. Wait 5 minutes for it to become a little pliable, then peel off bottom sheet of paper. Cover pie pan with dough, peel off top sheet of paper, and tuck the edges around the apples. You can use your fingers or a soup spoon to do this. It doesn't matter if it's a bit rough, it will look fine in the end. You have to work quickly as the warm apples and pan will melt the dough.

Bake for 20 min.

Let the pie cool for a few minutes then place a plate on top, and flip the entire dish and plate to turn over cake. It should unmold easily as long as it is still warm. If any pieces of apple get stuck to the dish, just replace them in the pie.

If you serve the pie a few hours later (which is what I did here), leave it in the dish without turning it over. When you are ready to serve, warm up the pie in a medium oven (100 or 150°) for 15 minutes, turn it over to unmold and serve. Waiting till the last minute to turn it over ensures the crust stays crunchy.

Alternate Approach

Today I saw this beautifully illustrated recipe which uses a different approach for caramelizing the apples. The advantage of this recipe is you can better control the caramelization process, and also perhaps it isn't as important to use a heavy pie pan as you don't cook the caramel in the pie pan itself. But I still think I'll stick to my version as I like the idea of the apple juices forming a caramel together with the sugar.


Claudia said...

Your Tarte Tatin really look delicious! What about the recipe? ;-)

Astrid said...

Thanks Claudia. I'll add the recipe asap.