Friends recently stopped by with two huge crates of apples that ranged from scrubby green to lush, deep red. When I asked about the varieties I was met with a shrug. “We don’t know; these trees have always been on the farm,” said Francois Bourdon, who brought them. “Some are for eating, some are for cooking, you’ll just have to try them and see.”
A bicycling friend came by not two days later with a big bag full of my favorites, Cox Orange. Mixed among them were Benedictines, a fat, tart green apple that will last until May.
And just last night as I was leaving friends’ after dinner my host, Nadine Devisme, pressed a small, striated red apple into my hand. “For breakfast tomorrow, Susan,” she said with a wink. “It will be the best apple you ever ate.”
All of this apple bounty is added to that given by my own four trees – two Cox Orange, and two Reine de Reinette. We all have a bumper crop this year, because apple trees produce on a one year on/one year off cycle. This happens to be an ‘on’ year.
I could panic at so many apples, because they beg to be used, and there really are a lot of them. I’ve given many away of course, but that still leaves a persistent amount, so I’ve decided to play. I made apple compote for Fiona, who admitted she really only likes the kind from the supermarket that squeezes from a tube. No problem. I pureed it super-smooth and put it in a squeeze bottle. I’ve also made dozens of apple tarts, my favorite King Size Apple Cake and, just today and just for fun, I made a Tarte Tatin.
I believe I was inspired by so many of my students who all, it seems, have gone home to recreate the tarte tatins they made in class. We’re all playing with apples and so, most likely, are you. To help you along, let me share my rules for apples:
Rules for Apples:
Use the following three essential tools:
Couteau économe (sometimes called a ‘couteau Parisien’)
Cuillère à boule Parisien (sometimes called a melon ball maker)
Sharp Chef’s knife
1. Remove the stem and the blossom end of the core, with the couteau économe .
2. Peel the apple with the couteau économe .
3. Check carefully to be sure no peel is left on the apple then cut it in half.
4. Remove the core with your cuillère à boule Parisien (all right, you may call it a melon ball maker). Be precise: remove just the seeds and the tough, impossible to chew casing, not half the apple. To verify your work, feel inside the hollowed out core.
Now, your apples are ready to turn into something luscious. If you follow the example of my fall students, you’ll make Tarte Tatin. Bon Appétit!
SUSAN’S WORLD-CLASS UPSIDE DOWN APPLE TART
LA MEILLEUR TARTE TATIN A LA SUZANN
One recipe for TENDER TART PASTRY
1-1/2 cups (300 g) Vanilla Sugar (see recipe)
10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks; 150 g) unsalted butter, cut into thin slices
4 to 4-1/2 pounds (2-2,.25 kgs) tart cooking apples, peeled, halved, and cored
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly flour it.
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to form an 11 ½ -inch (29cm) round. Transfer the pastry to the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a very heavy (10 to 10.5inch;25 to 26.5cm) oven-proof skillet; a simple cast-iron skillet is perfect. Place the butter slices evenly over the sugar, then arrange the apple halves on top of the butter. Begin at the outside edge and stand the halves on their sides, facing in one direction with stem ends toward the center. Pack the apples as close together so they are held standing by pressure. Make a second circle of apple halves inside the first, packing them in on their edges as well. Place one apple half right in the center of the second circle to fill in the small space that remains. The idea is to get as many apples into the pan as possible, while keeping them nicely arranged.
- Place the skillet over medium-low heat and cook the apples in the butter and sugar, uncovered, unti-0l the sugar turns golden brown; this will take at least 1 hour. Watch the apples closely to be sure they don’t stick; you may want to adjust the heat now and then, to slow down or speed up the cooking. As the sugar and butter melt and the apples give up some of their juices, baste the apples occasionally with a turkey baster. Gradually, the sugar will caramelize the apples nearly all the way through, though they will remain uncooked on top.
- Preheat the oven to 425° F (220° C).
- When the cooking juices are deep golden and the apples are nearly cooked through, remove the pastry from the refrigerator and quickly and carefully place it over the apples, gently tucking it down around them, simultaneously easing it toward the center so that if it shrinks on the sides there will still be enough of it to cover the apples.
7. Place the skillet on a baking sheet. Bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t be concerned if the juices bubble over; the tart will be more or less juicy, depending on the variety of apple you’ve used.
8. Remove the skillet from the oven. Immediately invert a serving platter with a slight lip over the skillet. Quickly but carefully invert the two so the crust is on the bottom, the apples are on top, and the juices don’t run off onto the floor. Remove the skillet. Should any apples stick to it, gently remove them and reinsert them into their rightful place in the tart.
9. Serve generous slices as soon as the tart has cooled slightly, but is still very warm through.
One 10-inch (25 cm) tart; 6-8 servings
ON RUE TATIN’S TENDER TART PASTRY
LA PATE TENDRE D’ON RUE TATIN
1 ½ cups (205 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
12 Tablespoons (180 g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
- Place the flour and the salt in a food processor and process once to mix. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the 5 tablespoons ice water and pulse just until the pastry begins to hold together. If the pastry seem dry and dusty, add the remaining 1 tablespoon water.
- Transfer the pastry from the food processor to your work surface and form it into a flat round. Let it rest on a work surface, covered with a bowl, for at least 30 minutes. The pastry can sit several hours at room temperature, as long as the room isn’t warmer than 68 degrees. The pastry is ready to use as desired.
Pastry for one 10 ½-inch (26 ½ cm) to 12-1/2 inch (31.5cm) tart