16 October 2019 14:56
I'd always thought that the French apple "pie," tarte Tatin, was French for "apple pie." It's not; that would be "tarte aux pommes," a term we don't use much unless we're on vacation in France. No, tarte Tatin (the capital "T" is important) is its own thing, a kind of apple pie, no need for translation. It takes its name from the Hotel Tatin in the Loire Valley southwest of Paris — and from a mistake. It's one of those foods, such as Worcestershire sauce, that wouldn't exist had it not first been (in this instance, purely) a flop. Legend has it that, back in the 1880s, in the course of making standard apple pie desserts, one of the Tatin sisters who ran the hotel dropped a pie in a rush, then quickly reassembled it with the remaining crust on the bottom and the apples on top.
This is tarte Tatin's season, of course, why with apples aplenty at all markets. Choose those that do not break down under nearly an hour of significant heat: Braeburns, Jonagolds, or Granny Smiths work well. I like Jonathans, both because they retain their shape and their tartness doesn't cook away. The latter leaves a nice, tingly acidity as an edge to all the (magnificently delicious) caramel of a tarte Tatin. I find that a few different fears are barriers to entry for cooks who'd otherwise attempt a tarte Tatin. Let's put them to rest. Making caramel is a pain; all that watching, and brushing down the crystals, and that nanosecond switch in time when sugar blackens into bitterness, as useless as a cinder. Let this recipe make the caramel for you as it goes along. It's foolproof, and all that butter, in the right pan, is a shield against burning the sugar. Some tarte Tatins are very fancy (read: time-consuming, patience-testing) renditions of thinly sliced apples like curlicues on top of a pie or shortcrust. The classic is easier: chunks of apples baked in a pan, with the crust on top, then flipped and inverted when done. For this purpose, puff pastry is even better and tastier than simple pie crust, although either works well. And it's way OK to use store-bought and frozen. Finally, a worry that too much juice from the apples will ruin everything: diluting the caramel (hence not allowing for a caramel to form); rendering the crust soggy, especially on one side; or making for a dangerous flip. The best solution is to dry out the apple chunks for two, even three days ahead of time. Simple; just takes a bit of planning. Tarte Tatin This recipe comes by way of the executive pastry chef at Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City, Ron Paprocki, and a helpful reworking of his technique by Julia Moskin in The New York Times. I've tinkered a bit with their work, as well as tempered the recipe to our higher elevation." Makes 1 tarte. Ingredients 8 large firm-fleshed semi-tart apples (such as Braeburn, Jonathan, or Granny Smith) 7 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, very soft 2/3 cup granulated sugar or light brown sugar 1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, about 8 ounces Directions Prepare the apples at least one day in advance of cooking them (even better, 2-3 days). Slice off the bottom of each apple so that it has a flat base. Peel half the apples, then quarter all of them, cutting down through the poles. Trim seeds and hard matter from the center of each quarter. Lay out the apple quarters on a plastic tray or a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Cover them loosely with paper toweling and put them in the refrigerator to dry out. They will brown slightly but pay that no mind. They will further brown in the cooking. When ready to assemble the tarte, heat the oven to 370 degrees (340-350 if using convection). Use the butter to coat the bottom of a 10-inch heavy ovenproof pan or skillet, preferably nonstick (seasoned cast iron is ideal), slathering the soft butter all around the bottom so that it hides any metal. Evenly sprinkle the sugar atop the butter. Find a bowl or plate the diameter of the skillet and set it aside. Take one of the apple quarters and make it round by trimming it at both ends. It will be a "button" at the center of the tarte; place it there. Now, arrange the remaining apple quarters, evenly dividing the arrangement between the peeled and unpeeled apples, each quarter standing on its flat side, in circles around the "button." Place the quarters as close to each other as you can, like flower petals, so that they support each other upright. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Place the reserved bowl or plate on top of the dough and, using the tip of a sharp knife, cut out a round. Gently lift the dough round and drape it over the apples, tucking it in around the edge. Over medium heat, cook the tarte until golden-brown juice bubbles around the edge. (If the juices keep rising, spoon it out so that the bubbling juices are just at the edge of the dough.) Keep cooking, adjusting the heat is necessary, up to 10 minutes, until the juices begin to turn darker brown and smell like caramel. Place the pan or skillet in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the pastry browns nicely. Let the tarte cool for 5 minutes only, then flip it carefully onto a round serving plate, dough side down, apples up, minding any hot caramel that might ooze or spill out. If any apples stick to the pan, they are easily removed and replaced into the tarte while it is warm. Serve, cut into wedges, warm or at room temperature, topped with crème fraiche, ice cream, Greek yogurt, or very heavy cream.