This French upside down apple tart is apparently named after the two sisters called Tatin who are supposed to have invented it. Whether this is true or not, one thing is certain: a well made Tatin, the translucent apples glistening with caramel on top of a nicely browned and crisp pastry, is among the greatest sweet dishes you'll ever taste.

The method of making this tart is quite simple, but there seems to be a real knack to doing it that is impossible to teach. Expect to make a few (still tasty) duds before you get perfection. A head chef that I knew used to get all new pastry recruits to bake a Tatin, as it is a great test of a chef's skills. In the autumn when the apples are plentiful and cheap you can bake these on a regular basis and you'll soon be an expert. I assure you the early attempts will still be gorgeous.

While working as a pastry chef for years I must have made hundreds of these as they're probably my favourite sweet. This is the recipe that I developed in that time. It differs from the standard recipes in a few details, but I think you'll find they're improvements.

Serves 8

You will need:

You will need a heavy-based skillet or frying pan around 10 inches / 26cm in diameter that you can put in the oven. Oh, and an oven. And nerves of steel as you'll be playing with very hot caramel.

  1. Roll the pastry about 5mm thick, to make a disk lightly larger than the rim of your pan. Stick it in the fridge.
  2. Cover the base of the pan with the sugar - it should about 5mm / 1/4inch thick. Use your judgement.
  3. Melt this over a gentle heat until it is dark caramel. Carefully swirl the pan about a bit to evenly melt the sugar. This needs steady nerves! Don't use a spoon, or it will crystallise. Don't chicken out. It neads to be very dark. You should be thinking that you've almost burnt it. Don't actually burn it, of course!
  4. When your resolve breaks, remove the pan from the heat, (carefully) chuck the butter pieces into the pan. Swirl about a bit to mix.
  5. Arrange the apple halves standing up around the edge of the pan. Pack 'em in! If you have any apples remaining, segment them and use them to fill the gaps.
  6. Return to the heat briefly, until the caramel starts bubbling again.
  7. Remove from the heat, and cover with the pastry, tucking in the edges. Careful with those fingers. That's a hot pan!
  8. Stick it in the oven, at around 180°
  9. After about 15 minutes, take it out of the oven (smells lush doesn't it!) and pour off some of the juices into another pan. Reserve.
  10. Continue cooking until the pastry is golden-brown and the apples cooked through.
  11. Remove from the oven, pour off some juices again, and allow to rest. Meanwhile, take the juices, with a little more sugar, and heat intil bubbling nicely. Soft ball is about right. This will be your sauce. Keep warm
  12. Now for the terrifying bit! Place a large plate over the pan containing the tart. Using thick oven cloths, pick up the pan and plate together and, holding it over a sink if you don't trust yourself, flip it over. Did you drain off the juices? If not, you've just got third degree burns.
You should now have the tart looking gorgeous on the plate. Glaze the top with some of the sauce. Serve with more sauce, creme fraiche, clotted cream, ice cream (cinnamon or nutmeg is good).

It seems to take about two weeks of trying to get this right, but it is so worth it!! I have had proposals of marriage on the basis of a good tatin.

Enjoy!

Serves 6

You will need

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a round, 2.5cm/1in larger than a 22-25cm/9-10in heavy based ovenproof frying pan, tarte tatin or shallow cake tin (not a loose based one) and that is about 3mm/1/8in thick; no thicker than 5mm/1/4in or it will not cook properly. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel, core and halve the apples and toss them in the lemon juice.
Using a spatula, spread the butter evenly into the frying pan, tarte tatin mould or cake tin. Sprinkle over the caster sugar in an even layer and then arrange the apple halves, cut side up, tightly together in the bottom of the pan.
Sprinkle the apples with the nutmeg and lemon rind. Cook over a high heat for about 15 minutes or until the apples are caramelised and light golden brown. Remove from the heat. Leave to cool a little, if time allows.
Lay the chilled pastry sheet over the top of the apples, tucking in the edges and turning them down so that when the tarte is turned out, the edges will create a rim that will hold in the caramel and apple juices. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the apples are completely tender but still holding their shape.
Leave the tarte in the tin for a minute or two, then loosen the edges with a round-bladed knife and invert on to a flat serving plate.
Rearrange any apples which have loosened back into place with a palette knife and leave to cool, if time allows. This enables all the juices to be reabsorbed and allows the caramel to set slightly because of the pectin in the apples.
Cut into slices and serve on slightly warmed plates with lashings of clotted cream. The tarte can also be reheated in the oven for about 15 minutes if you would like to serve it warm.


OK, I have another variation on the Tarte Tatin recipe, which I picked up in France last year.

Advantages:
- it's Authentic(tm)!
- it's easier than the other recipes listed here so far (ok, I think it's easier, but others might not agree... it is longer but that's because I'm trying to give all necessary detail!)
- includes instructions for making a really good crust!

Tarte Tatin
There is one piece of equipment that really helps make it all work: a 8-10" cast iron or other thick walled pan with sides at least 2" high, preferably straight-sided (not very slanted), and with a metal handle so it can take the heat of a 425 degree F (220 degree C) oven. You also need thick enough oven mitts or pot holders to withstand that temperature, of course.

Ingredients:
Crust:
1 3/4 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125g) butter, diced
1 egg
2-3 Tbsp superfine sugar
1-2 Tbsp milk (optional)
pinch of salt

Filling:
1/2 cup (125g) butter, diced
2/3 cup (125g) superfine sugar
8-10 apples (about 1Kg) - in the USA types that work well include Gala and Fuji
1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)

To Make the Crust:

- Sift flour into a bowl.
- Make a well in the center and add the butter, sugar, egg and pinch of salt.
- Work together lightly to form a dough. If too dry, add milk or water. Dough should be dry enough not to stick to hands.
- Form into a ball and chill for at least 1/2 hour.
- The next two steps may be done in advance or while the filling is cooking.
- After the dough is chilled, roll it into a circle a little larger than the size of the top of your pan. The way that I've found to work best is to use sheets of plastic wrap on each side of the dough -- this lets you avoid using extra flour and creating a mess.
- When you've rolled the dough about the right size, trim using the pan as a guide, cover with plastic wrap again, and put back in the refrigerator.

To Make the Filling:

- Cut the apples into quarters lengthwise.
- Core and peel the apples.
- You may optionally dip them in lemon juice as you cut them and peel them to avoid browning.
- Pour the sugar into the pan, covering the bottom evenly.
- Put the diced butter into the pan, also distributing it evenly.
- Alternatively you can melt the butter, turn off the heat, pour in the sugar, mix to distribute evenly, then continue.
- Place the apple quarters into the pan on their edges (cut sides), as tightly as they can fit. Place them in a circle, one end at the rim of the pan, leaving an empty spot in the middle.
- When you think you've filled up all the space, try to jam a few more pieces in.
- Now fill in the middle with as many apple quarters as you can, also on their sides.
- Now cut up the remaining apples into smaller slices and jam them in wherever you can. Some apples are larger than others, so there may be some height variation. Wherever you find this, use extra slices to top off the apples so that there's roughly the same height of apple all over the pan. The idea is to STUFF the pan with apples while creating a nice looking pattern.
- Now apply a low heat to the pan while preheating your oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C, Gas Mark 7).
- Cook over a burner on low heat until the apples get slightly translucent (about 35 minutes). The liquids in the pan should be bubbling for most of this time. Do NOT use a high heat during this time.
- Now increase the heat to medium. NOT high. Continue to cook until the liquid caramelizes. You can check this by carefully scraping the bottom of the pan with a butterknife stuck between the apple pieces. The very tip will have a bit of brown caramel when this stage is finished. If you get any black out, you've burned it a bit, but a slight burn won't ruin the flavor. This is the most important step of the recipe: if you don't cook long enough on a low enough flame to create an even light brown caramel, the tart won't really work!
- Turn off the burner, take the crust dough out of the refrigerator, peel off the plastic, and carefully place the crust over the apples.
- Put the pan into the oven and cook until the crust is golden brown (about 20 minutes).

To Unmold the Tarte Tatin:

- Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
- Check the fluidity of the mixture by tilting the pan slightly. If it's very liquid you can continue to cook it on top of the stove at low to medium heat for another 5 minutes or so.
- Shake the pan a bit to loosen the apples, put a dish over the pan, and flip it all over. Remember to be careful not to get burned if there was any liquid (you can pour off the liquid if there's too much of it, then put it back on top once the tart is unmolded). If any apples have stuck to the pan, remove them carefully with a fork and put them in their place in the tart.
- Serve warm! If you don't serve it immediately, warm in an oven before serving.

- Alternatively, you can prepare the tarte Tatin ahead of time and leave it in its pan. When it's time to serve, heat the pan on top of the stove on a low flame for 2-3 minutes until the caramel becomes loose. Shake the pan to loosen the apples and flip it over onto a dish as above. Leaving the tart to rest for a couple of hours also helps to absorb any left over fluid.

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