Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving round-up: Apple Tart Tatin

The apple tart tatin was the pièce de résistance of the Thanksgiving dessert menu. This traditional french tart involves making a caramel and cooking apples in this sugar mixture until they are deeply caramelized, about 2 hours. Then pie dough or puff pastry is placed over the top, and the whole tart goes into the oven to finish baking. When it comes out, it's inverted and the result is a gorgeous presentation piece that also happens to taste amazing. The apples melt in your mouth, and without cinnamon or other spices to interfere with their flavor, this tart sings with a pure apple taste.

Apple Tart Tatin (makes 1-12" tart)

  • 15 medium (or 10 large) Red Delicious apples, peeled, cored and chopped into quarters
  • 10 ounces butter
  • 1.75 cups granulated sugar
  • puff pastry or pie dough, rolled and ready to go: more on this below
  • Cast-iron skillet, or other oven-ready skillet, with high sides


In your skillet, heat the sugar over medium heat until it melts and starts to caramelize. Add the butter and stir, stir, stir until it combines. If your mixture never comes together or separates after coming together, try adding a little bit of cream or milk and stirring. Once the caramel is a beautiful butterscotch color, and somewhat thick, pull off the heat and let it stand and thicken and cool a bit. This is a great time to get your apples ready.

Once the apples are ready and the caramel is thick, place the apple quarters standing on end in the caramel. I like to make decorative concentric circles: place a ring of apples around the outside of the pan, then repeat with an inner ring and so on until no more space is left. Make sure the apples fit closely and that there is minimal space between them.

Cover with another skillet or aluminum foil and return to low heat. You are now going to cook the life out of these apples. Let them simmer on low for 1.5-2 hours. You'll want to check them every 20 minutes or so, and add new apples once spaces appear between them. I like to use an offset cake spatula for this task, to reduce the risk of getting burned by the caramel. I wedge my spatula between apples, work it back and forth to create space, and carefully place another apple between them. A table knife will work for this purpose as well. You'll do this for at least an hour, and it's nice to try and keep the original decorative shape when adding new apples.

After an hour and a half, it can go in the oven...but if you have extra time, let it cook for another half-hour, uncovered this time. You'll notice the apples getting very dark and soft. This is good.

When your time is up, remove the skillet from the heat and allow it to cool (this is for the safety of your poor fingertips). Once you can touch it without burning yourself, roll your pastry over the top, covering the apples completely. You want to have extra pastry hanging over the edges, because you're going to tuck it inside, between the apples and the skillet. When the tart is inverted, these will become the tart edges.

Place the whole thing in the oven and bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool almost all the way. Invert while slightly warm and marvel at what you've made.

A note about the crust: my storebought puff pastry wasn't long enough to cover my 12" skillet, and I absolutely did not have time for homemade puff. So I whipped up a quick batch of this dough, one-and-a-halved. It was really really tasty, and I'm not just saying that because it was a last-minute addition. I might even prefer it to puff pastry, because it gives a little more body and sustance to the tart.

These instructions seem time-consuming, but it's not, I promise. It takes alot of cooking time, but it's easy to be baking other things and tend to the tart a few times an hour. I highly recommend this tart with spiced whipped cream: add 1/2 tsp cinnamon & a dash of nutmeg to your pint of cream before whipping it. Delicious!

On another note, I think maybe I should have a photo-labelling contest for the below picture. Would you really suspect it was an apple tart you were looking at?

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