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.