Parisian love affair
Falling for tarte tatin
An apple tarte tatin wedge can be served with a dollop of thick ivory creme fraiche. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)
I can remember looking longingly at the end of the zinc bar where a tarte tatin inevitably would be set out in all its glory, the apples satiny and glistening with caramel. I could imagine the slightly jelled texture of the apples, the warm buttery taste of the caramel against a dollop of thick ivory creme fraiche. Essentially an upside-down tart, the crust is baked on top of the apples and the tart is inverted to serve.
Most of the time, though, I couldn't afford it. So when I finally did get my tarte des demoiselles Tatin, referring to the two spinster sisters who invented it (on purpose or no) at their family hotel in the Loire Valley of France, it tasted all the sweeter.
I treasure that memory of eating a warm tarte, the windows of the wine bar or bistro steamed up, the blue-gray of November or December outside. And years later, on a subsequent trip to France, when I had more money in my pocket, I marched right into the cookware shop Dehillerin and accosted one of their famously grouchy clerks: "I would like to buy a proper tarte tatin pan."
I splurged on two heavy copper pans, one about the size of a 9-inch tart pan with 2-inch sides, and the other a generous 13 inches in diameter. I guess because it reminded me of those big tartes I'd seen at the wine bars.
I've been happily making tarte Tatin ever since. I love standing by the stove, keeping watch as the butter and sugar mixture caramelizes. It sputters up between the wedges, sending the smell of burnt sugar and apple through the entire house.
I've tried lots of recipes and eventually worked out the simplest. Not for me the usual puff pastry. I make mine with a classic pate brisee, which takes just minutes.
After I tried New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's version, I no longer even make the caramel first. His method (detailed in "Home Cooking With Jean-Georges") works just as well. He basically smooshes the butter together with the sugar, spreads it out in the pan and arranges the apples on top.
Then he turns the fire on high and waits for butter and sugar to caramelize. Caution: If the flame is too low, the apples will start giving up their juice before the caramelization takes place and it will be hard to get that characteristic deep amber color.
Note too that you don't have to use a copper pan. A cast-iron pan (or any heavy skillet that can go into the oven) works just as well.
Prep: 40 minutes
Chill: 30 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Servings: 8, one 9-inch tart
Notes: Golden Delicious is a classic apple for this tart, but you also can use Pippin, Cox, Granny Smith and especially Braeburn.
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt