To make this classic tarte tatin, an upside-down apple tarte, I use Patricia Wells’ recipe from The Paris Cookbook, HarperCollins, 2001. I follow it almost verbatim, except that I usually substitute white spelt flour for the all-purpose flour, and use unbleached sugar instead of regular white. Her proportions are spot-on, and the pastry is delightfully flaky from the butter, and from handling it gently. In fact, Patricia calls her Pate Brisee, her flaky pastry recipe, her “tried and true classic pastry recipe, the one I’ve been using in my Paris kitchens for more than 20 years.”
Guests and family members never fail to swoon over this “pie.” From the afore-mentioned pastry, to the dark golden caramel, to the intense apple flavor, it is simply divine.
You may wonder why we are making apple pie in May, not it’s natural season. My husband’s birthday is in May, and tarte tatin (or a regular apple pie) is his favorite dessert, so I find the best apples I can. That usually means the farmer’s market, but in this case our supermarket still had organic gala and honeycrisp apples available. I make this tarte at Thanksgiving also, and often use Fujis, great cooking apples. Sadly, gophers took our Fuji tree down a few years ago, but I have a couple of young trees coming up: a Gordon apple and a Pettingill. I made two tartes for Jim’s birthday, and used 8 honeycrisps for the one, and 8 galas for the other, so the sizes and shapes would match.
Makes 9" tarte
¾ c. sugar
10 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into thin slices
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 lb. large apples (about 8), peeled, cored, and halved lengthwise
1 recipe Flaky Pastry, prepared for tarte Tatin (recipe follows)
Crème fraiche or whipped heavy cream, for garnish
A 9” Tarte Tatin pan or cast-iron skillet
Spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a heavy ovenproof skillet. Place the butter slices evenly over the sugar. Drizzle with the vanilla extract. Beginning at the outside edge of the pan, stand the apple halves on end on top of the butter. They should all face in one direction, with the rounded edge of the apple against the edge of the pan and the cut side toward the center. Pack the apples as close together as possible. Make a second circle of apple halves inside the first. Place one apple half in the center of the circle to fill any remaining space. (As they cook, the apples will shrink and give up their juices. They will also naturally fall in place as they shrink, with the rounded halves falling to the bottom. Try to remember that when you turn out the tart, you want to see the nice rounded halves of apple.)
Place the skillet over low heat and cook the apples in the butter and sugar, uncovered, until the butter/sugar mixture turns a thick, golden brown and just begins to caramelize, about 1 hour. The liquid should remain at a gentle bubble. Baste the apples from time to time to speed up the cooking and to make for evenly cooked fruit. (If the apples seem to lose their place, you can carefully nudge them back into formation.”
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the Tatin pan on a baking sheet. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and place it on top of the apples, gently pushing the edges of the pastry down around the edge of the pan. Place in the oven and bake until the pastry is golden, 25-30 minutes. Do not be concerned if the juices bubble over – this is normal!
Remove the tarte from the oven. Immediately invert a rimmed serving platter over the tart pan. Quickly but carefully invert the tart pan and the platter together so the pastry ends up on the platter, with the apples on top. Should any apples stick to the bottom of the pan, remove them and place them back in the tart. Serve warm or at room temperature, with dollops of crème fraiche.
Flaky Pastry for Tarte Tatin
Makes 9" pastry
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, or white spelt flour
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
8 Tbs. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
3 Tbs. ice water
Place the flour and sea salt in the bowl of a food processor and process to blend. Add the butter and process until well blended, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add the ice water and process just until the mixture begins to form a ball, about 10 seconds.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface, and with a dough scraper, smear it bit by bit across the work surface until it is smooth and the flour and butter are well blended. Form into a flattened round, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Roll out as required for rimless shells, prebaked shells, or tarte Tatin pastry.
For one 9” Tarte Tatin:
Roll the dough out to form a 10” round. Place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. (For longer freezing – up to 1 month – cover securely once the dough is thoroughly frozen.)