tarte tatin

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Jennifer Pallian
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Tarte Tatin could be described as an upside-down apple pie, but that would be selling it short. Yes, it is an apple filling cooked with a crust on top, but it is so much more.

The apples are first pan-cooked in a butter-sugar caramel. Then a buttery crust is placed over the apples, and the whole deal is transferred to the oven.

When the finished tart is flipped, you have a perfectly crisp (never soggy!) crust, topped with soft apples bathed in caramel and their own sweet juices. It is heavenly.

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Tarte Tatin is a french classic, with a bit of a mysterious history. We know that a mademoiselle Tatin discovered it either by delicious accident, or by delicious shortcut. No one knows which.

But the delicious part is certain.

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See these gorgeous little apples? I bought them at the farmer's market last weekend. I haven't any idea what kind they are, they were just so pretty and... little.

I love them.

I did ask the farmer if they were pie-appropriate. He said yes. And that they taste like green Jolly Ranchers. SOLD!

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To make a Tarte Tatin, first you make the pastry. I used an all-butter crust.

Here are my pastry making tips:

Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until it is in pieces about the size of split peas (1). Then sprinkle with cold water and gently toss until it starts to stick together (2). It will still be loose, but when you pinch a bit together it should hold (3). You don't want to handle the dough very much or your crust will be tough.

Dump the dough onto a stretch of plastic wrap on the counter. Use the plastic wrap to gather the shaggy dough and press it together into a disc. Wrap it tightly and chill for at least half an hour. This part is very important. The dough must relax in the fridge so that a) it is easier to roll out b) it stays cold enough for the butter to maintain its separate identity in the dough, providing the crust that lovely flaky texture and c) it won't shrink in the oven.

While it's chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool in the fridge, you can do the peeling, chopping and caramelized apple-making.

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To caramelize the apples, you melt butter in a pan and sprinkle it with sugar. You make a pretty pattern over top with the apples, then you set the pan over high heat till everything turns lovely golden brown and bubbly. You may want to set a larger pan beside the stove, and fill it with ice and water. That way, if your caramel starts to darken angrily, you can halt the process at once by putting the base of the pan in the ice bath.

Then you roll out your crust, lay it on top, and WOOP! the whole thing goes straight into the hot oven.

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When you flip it onto a plate, wear oven mitts for heaven's sake. Plate on top, and one smooth flip. Put the plate down on the counter with the pan still on top, and knock on the pan a few times before lifting it off. Inevitably some apples will cling on for dear life. Just stab them with a fork and replace them on the crust where they belong.

Serve this baby hot. It is delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Tarte Tatin


For Pastry:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1/2 cup cold butter

  • 4 - 6 tbsp cold water

For Filling:

  • 3 tbsp butter

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 2 lbs small apples, peeled, cored, and cut into quarters

1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. With a pastry cutter or two knives (or in a food processor) cut the butter into the flour mixture, until the butter is in very small pieces. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of water over top, and toss with a fork. Continue adding water until the dough is still shaggy, but will hold together when pressed. Form a disc, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare filling by melting the butter in an 8 inch oven-proof skillet and sprinkling the sugar evenly over top. Arrange apples in concentric circles, rounded side down. Cook over high heat for 10 - 15 minutes, or until sugar is bubbling and caramelized. Remove from heat, cover apples with pastry (pushing edges in with a knife so that there is no overhang). Bake at 375 degrees until pastry is golden brown.

3. Invert by (Carefully! Wearing oven mitts!) placing a plate over skillet and flipping. Some apples will be left in the pan; simply replace them on the tart. Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.