Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tarte Tatin Part I

I decided a good weekend project would be a run at tarte tatin—an upside down, one crust, cook on the stove then in the oven, apple pie named after two spinster sisters.

And if that isn't enough to hook you ... Emile Hernry is pushing a new $100 tarte tatin pan that looks attractive but unnecessary. I want the traditional method to prevail (and to spend that $100 on a new bottle of Calvados).

The tarte starts with butter and sugar on the stovetop that melts into a caramel sauce. Add apple quarters on end until you can't add any more. Let them cook. They shrink a bit and soften and the juices bubble up over the pan. It's a tremendous mess but the smell is fantastic. As the apples shrink and soften you add as many more as will fit. After several minutes of cooking I had successfully placed seven pounds of apple quarters, standing on end, in one medium sized skillet.

For about 20 minutes fifteen apples were cooking in butter and sugar and their own juices. Really, the smell was unearthly.

Thinking I know better, as is my way, I made a few adjustments to the recipe:
I used a cast iron skillet instead of a nonstick skillet. When I try to unmold the tarte tomorrow morning before work this choice might come back to bite me. But I've read that nonstick at high heat is a carcinogen and I believe it ever since I smelled an empty nonstick pan that was accidentally left on a hot burner. It was noxious. My cast iron pan is about the right size, is so well seasoned that it's almost nonstick, and is the pan of choice for browning. (I wanted brown apples.)
I used salted butter. I was inspired by the short bread cookies I made the other day (their high salt content elevated them from expected to exceptional) .
I didn't rotate the pan every five to ten minutes to promote even browning. This is a great instruction ... I forgot.

For the most part, the recipe went as planned. I cooked 3/4 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar in a skillet. I added apple quarters until the pan was full. I waited and added several more. The juices bubbled and turned jammy. But when I went to spot check apples to see if they were properly browned on the bottom, I had a problem: The apples were cooking to mush. When I tried to pull them out of the pan with a fork, I ended up with 2/3 of an apple quarter. The rest was a buttery apply sludge on the bottom of the pan.

(According to JP's instruction I used golden delicious apples—a popular baking apple in France because of their flavor and because they hold their shape well.)

There wasn't much to do. You can't uncook an apple. I tuned up the heat to boil off some liquid and removed the pan from the range. I placed the crust on top (I used a large pot lid as a circle template) and popped it into a 400 degree oven. It baked for 48 minutes. I let it cool, ran a knife around the edge to loosen any sticky bits, and right now it's in the fridge. In the morning I'll warm it up on the stove and unmold it.

I'm really hoping for deep brown, caramelized apples. The jammy apple syrup stuck to the rim of the skillet looks promising. It's deep amber.


  1. I can't believe you could wait until morning! What discipline!!!

  2. It is the brutal honesty that I so enjoy. The photos are stunning. Honestly I can't get enough. Clearly I like to torture myself by reading about food. I'm off to eat a piece of toast because I suck at baking.

  3. I have to pipe in:) And tell you I think your photos are great!