Every time I make Tarte Tatin I think about my time as an apprentice in the kitchens at La Varenne. There, Chef Albert Jorant taught us pastry. I worked with Chef Jorant on a book, too, putting my hands in the photographs of his pastries. It was here that I learned the fine points of making Tarte Tatin, from the proper way to core and peel apples, to the little shakes and shimmies necessary to get the sugar and butter just right in the pan. I learned so much from Chef Jorant and became, among other things, his Tarte Tatin apostle..
Then, I bought the house on Rue Tatin, and the bar went even higher as I refined my recipe so that I, too, could send Tarte Tatin apostles out into the world.
Since apple – and Tarte Tatin -season is really just beginning, I want to share my refinements with you.
What are the keys to a perfect Tarte Tatin?
Fabulous apples, of course. I didn’t learn that from Chef Jorant who ,like so many chefs of his generation used golden delicious apples because they were standard, they don’t melt, they always gave the same result. I experimented with every apple that came my way and settled on the Cox Orange Pippin as my favorite. Round, tart, floral, they make a perfect Tarte Tatin. If you cannot find them, use Pink Lady, Fuji, or Jonagold.
Leave the apples in half and crowd them into the pan. This way as they give up their juices and shrink, they’ll settle into a perfect spiral that will be gorgeous when you turn out the tart.
Caramelize the apples, sugar and butter for an hour on top of the stove. As the apples cook, use a turkey baster to bathe the apples with their juices, which ensures they become sweet, tender, and buttery.
Make my recipe for Tender Tart Pastry, roll it out an inch larger than the diameter of your pan, and refrigerate for at least one hour. Then tuck it around the caramelized apples as though you were tucking your child into bed.
Finally, if you don’t have a gorgeous copper Tarte Tatin mold, use a cast-iron skillet, though not one in which you’ve sautéed onions, garlic, or anything else that leaves a flavor. (Until I got copper molds, I had a dedicated skillet for my Tarte Tatin.)
The Legend of Tarte Tatin: The Tatin sisters owned an auberge in Lamotte Beuvron, a village in the Loir-et-Cher of central France. One sister cooked, the other sister made pastry. A large group had come for lunch and the pastry sister put her apple tart in the oven as she was used to doing. Halfway through baking, though, she clapped her hand to her mouth in horror as she realized she’d forgotten the pastry. She quickly rolled it out and slipped it atop the baking apples, and when she deemed the tart baked, she removed it from the oven, flipped it onto a platter, and served it with creme fraiche. A star was born. From that day forward, she always made her apple tarte that way.
Please note: When you turn out the Tarte Tatin do so with concentration and precision then, when you lift the mold or pan off the tart keep your arm out of the way, to avoid being burned by the steam.
And there, you have all the secrets to a marvelous, stupendous, perfect Tarte Tatin.
10tablespoonsunsalted buttercut into thin slices, 1-1/4 sticks; 150 g
4poundsto 4-1/2(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.
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.
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.
Serve generous slices as soon as the tart has cooled slightly, but is still very warm through.