Tarte Tatin is my absolute favourite go-to recipe when I need to produce a nice dessert in a hurry. It’s the ultimate crowd pleaser: a classic tarte tatin consists simply of rich apple-flavoured butter caramel surrounding soft, tender cooked fruit on flaky, buttery, puff pastry. Served warm with a dollop of crème fraiche, there is NOTHING BETTER. And your friends – particularly the ones who don’t bake – have no idea how simple it is. (People are resistant to the idea that something so delicious can be so easy to make.) The beauty of a tarte tatin is that you can make it in less than two hours with minimal fuss. If you’re an expert apple peeler and corer, you can make it in under an hour and a half. (That is, if you already have puff pastry or are using store-bought.)
I learned how to make a tarte tatin from my mother. My mother follows Lenotre’s method – and so, I suppose, do I. You know how when you eat a perfect food early in life it defines how that food should taste forever? That’s how I feel about this tarte tatin: it is the ideal against which all others must be compared.
A couple of notes before you begin.
In my opinion, it is not simply worthwhile but essential that you use all-butter puff pastry. The vegetable oil stuff may be fine for savoury tarts (and even on this I am unconvinced) but you can really taste the difference when making desserts. BUTTER IS BEST. I had planned to write a blog post on how to make puff pastry, but for the above tarte tatin I used store-bought (I told you I was in a hurry), so that post is yet forthcoming. In the meantime, should you want to start with a quick puff pastry recipe, you can’t do better than Katherine’s beautifully photographed tutorial at Two Bites at a Time. (Plus she uses the word, “fraisage,” which I love and find rather naughty-sounding – but I think that’s because it reminds me of frottage.) In England, I know that Waitrose carries all-butter puff pastry for about £3 for a package of two sheets (enough for two large tartes) and in the United States you can find it in Whole Foods for sure. For a while Trader Joe’s also stocked all-butter puff pastry, but I’m not certain if they still do.
Moving on. The only tricky bit to making a tarte tatin is flipping the hot tarte tatin onto the serving plate, since the tarte is baked upside-down in a skillet. My advice to you on this point is this: make sure that the skillet you are using is one that you can easily lift by yourself with one hand, as you don’t want to a) drop your tarte, or b) give yourself third-degree burns with molten caramel. (And yes, on one occasion that I wish I could forget, I did this – and have the scars to prove it.) So I guess I do have an additional piece of advice: don’t make a tarte tatin when you’ve got a hangover.
A heavy-bottomed oven proof skillet that you can lift with one hand (failing that, you’ll need a nimble kitchen assistant to help you). I swear by my Scanpan – fancy Danish cast aluminum and titanium non-stick cookware that never ever flakes or chips. And it’s environmentally friendly!
A serving dish that is larger than your heavy-bottomed skillet
(The following amounts are for a 10 and ½ inch tarte; you’ll only need to scale up the amount of butter and sugar if you’re doing something much larger)
8-10 good baking apples (Remember, the apples are the star, so use something you really like. My favourite baking apple is the pink lady.)
250 grams sugar (about nine ounces, or 1 and 1/3 cups) (Use more if your apples are quite tart, or if you like a sweeter caramel — you can always add as you go along.)
150 grams unsalted butter (about 1/3 lb, or about 10.5 tablespoons)
Approximately 250 grams of puff pastry (a little more than half a pound)
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius (425 degrees Fahrenheit).
Peel, halve, and core 7-10 apples (how many you’ll need depends on the apples’ size: you will eventually cram them fairly tightly into your skillet, so use your best estimate of how many you can fit).
In a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof skillet, melt the butter and sugar together over medium-low heat. When the butter is completely melted, place the apples cut side up in the skillet, trying to cram in as many as you can, as they will shrink.
Your caramel will pass through three stages. First, the butter and sugar will simply melt and bubble around your apples. Eventually, the mixture will turn into a clear thick caramel. At this point, your apples have probably lost some liquid but are still somewhat firm. You want to continue to cook the mixture until the caramel turns a butterscotch colour, and the apples are fork tender. (Your kitchen will smell heavenly.)
While the mixture is cooking, or, if you like, once your caramel and apples are ready, roll out the puff pastry on floured parchment paper quite thin (ideally no more than one to two millimeters) to a size a bit larger than your skillet, being careful to work it as little as possible so the butter does not melt. Flip the rolled pastry over your skillet, folding and tucking the edges firmly around the apples.
Put the skillet in the hot oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden.
Now, while the tarte is still very hot (i.e., as soon as it’s out of the oven), place the serving dish over the tarte. With your dominant hand on the skillet handle and your other hand flat on the bottom of the serving dish, quickly flip the whole lot, place the dish on your work surface, and lift the skillet away from the tarte. The tarte will come cleanly out of the skillet.
Makes about 10 servings.