It finally feels like fall. The rain is falling as plentifully as the leaves, and people are starting to get slightly grumpier. I’m able to wear sweaters all the time now, and I’m also able to eat apples almost all the time. Apples really are one of my favorite fruits (I guess it comes with the territory, growing up in Washington). There is no better way to celebrate the coming of fall than with a baked apple dish of some sort. I would try doing a classic American apple pie, but I just know that it would end terribly. There is no way my pies will ever turn out like my mother’s. But this doesn’t mean defeat. The French have invented a way to make a baked apple treat that even an idiot like me can do.
Tarte Tatin has to be one of the closest things to apple pie in existence. This dish has been a classic for nearly 100 years. The idea of making upside down tartes has been around in French cooking for a long time, but this specific recipe/method is said to be developed around the late 19th century by the Tatin sisters. It is almost always made with apples, although it can be made with other fruits like pears, plums, peaches, and even tomatoes. A caramel is made, apples are sliced and placed in the caramel to cook on the stove, and then a crust is put over the whole tarte and it is baked until the crust is golden brown. After this, it is inverted on a plate and made to look as pretty as possible.
When choosing apples for a tarte tatin, there are a few things to be aware of. Ripeness, as always, is a paramount concern. As we have discussed in previous posts, the best way to ascertain ripeness is by smell. If the fruit smells fruity, then its ripe. Firmness is also important, as we want the apples to hold their shape as they cook. The traditional apple for this application is Granny Smith, so that’s what I’m using. If you want to be a blasphemer and deviate from a well-documented and widely practiced tradition, you can use other apples that have a robust flavor and hold their shape well. What kind of apples are those? There are tons, but you’ll just have to experiment yourself, you unholy apple user. Granny Smith is really the best way to go; it’s never failed in making apples pies or tarte tatins. Okay, maybe it’s failed every once in a great while, but that’s just user error. To recap: for a tarte tatin, you need fragrant, firm Granny Smith apples.
But what have apples ever done for us? Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system, and public health, apples can provide a lot of good for us. The principle health benefit is the high levels of antioxidants that apples have. Apples also have a fair amount of fiber and have been shown to lower the chance of heart disease and possibly prevent deterioration of cognitive function. Other than the core and seeds being slightly poisonous, there is nothing about eating apples that is not beneficial. Even more reason to make this tarte tatin.
-1 cup sugar
-3 tablespoons butter
-4 granny smith apples
-1 12 inch sheet of pastry dough (make it yourself or use puff pastry)
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Place in a bowl and toss with the juice of half the lemon. This prevents them from browning as you cook your caramel.
In an oven safe skillet on medium low heat, add 3/4 cup of sugar. It will melt and become a nutty brown after about 5 minutes. The brown should be about as dark as a dark brown roux. At this point, take the pan off the heat and add the butter in chunks, stirring constantly. Once the butter is incorporated, arrange the apples in the skillet in a nice pattern. Put the skillet back on the heat to cook the apples in the caramel for another 10 minutes. They should be done when the apples are tender and the caramel is bubbling over the apples.
While the apples are cooking, roll out your pastry dough on a well floured cutting board. The dough should be quite thin. Beat an egg to use as eggwash later.
After the apples are done cooking in the caramel, take the skillet off the heat and lay the crust over the top, tucking the sides in. Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to come out. Brush the crust lightly with eggwash.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling on the sides of the pan. Invert on a plate and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut and serve.