Tarte tatin. It’s the first thing I order when I’m in France and yet so rarely found in British restaurants. The tarte tatin is devilishly simple to cook (so long as you buy the puff pastry) yet looks very impressively difficult when it’s served to people. Thoroughly delicious, the tarte tatin never seems to last as long or feed as many people as I think it will and it needs nothing more than a little sweetened vanilla crème fraiche to go with it. In fact we love it so much, we had it as the dessert at our wedding. I’ve cooked loads of them and even got to the finals of a tarte tatin competition a couple of years ago so figured I’d share a few little tips and tricks about how to make a classic tarte tatin, just like the one invented by the Tatin sisters.
For me, the classic tarte tatin with apples and no spices is still the best. I’ve tried tarte tatins of almost every fruit under the sun, I’ve tried ones spiced with cinnamon or star anise – I’ve even had an apple and paprika tarte tatin (not a success). None of them have been as good as the classic – though they’ve often been brilliant and worth trialling once you’ve had your fill of the original. At it’s core, tarte tatin is only about three things: the pastry, the caramel and the apples. The pastry should be puff and should be bought, there’s just no need to make your own puff pastry when the store bought alternative is so good. Just make sure to buy all butter puff pastry and defrost before you roll it out.
Lots of recipes insist that the variety of apple is the single most important decision in making a tarte tatin. I can’t say I agree. There are some disaster choices, apple varieties which won’t hold their shape (I’m looking at you Bramleys) or which are too sweet (pink ladies) but most firm fleshed eating apples will do. My favourites are cox pippens and braeburns. For me the most important decision is how you prepare and stack your apples. First off, remember to peel and core your apples – although it looks nice, I forgot to peel once – total disaster! Some people halve the apples and others (imagine the horror) slice them thinly like a tarte fine (a lovely but wholly different french tarte). I think, like pies, tarte tatins should stand proud and tall with the apple quarters packed in as tightly as possible and standing upright. More apple to pastry ratio and the apples retain their tart flavour whilst being permeated with the caramel. It makes all the difference to the final taste of the tarte – trust me.
The caramel is by far the hardest part of the tarte tatin but I promise it’s not that hard once you’ve done it a couple of times. Caramels can be made as either wet or dry caramels (wet start with a water and sugar mix and dryare just sugar) – I find dry caramels to be a lot easier. You simply add enough sugar to cover the base of your pan a couple of centimetres deep and heat over a medium to high heat. As it starts to turn liquid, swirl the pan around and stir with a silicone spatula (much easier than a wooden spoon as the caramel won’t stick to it). Once it’s reached an amber colour turn off the heat and add a good sized knob of butter to stop the cooking. It will spit and hiss but don’t worry just stir it and it will turn a rich butterscotch colour. It really only takes one or two times before you get it completely.
- 12 braeburn apples peeled, cut into quarters and cored
- Caster sugar
- 150g butter
- Puff pastry – about 400g depending on the size of your pan – keep it chilled in the fridge
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius
- Make a light amber caramel (see above for some tips) by placing enough sugar in an oven ready pan to cover it a couple of centimetres deep (this pan is where all the action will happen so it should the right size for your tarte tatin). Heat over a medium high heat stirring occasionally once the liquid has started to form until a deep amber caramel is formed. It shouldn’t be anaemic in colour but also shouldn’t be very very dark.
- Remove from the heat and add 100g of the butter to the caramel whilst stirring vigorously. This will stop the cooking and cool it down – if still very hot allow to cool slightly.
- Begin to stack the apple quarters. Start around the outer rim using the caramel to hold the apple quarters upright like cement. Place as many as possible facing the same way around the outside before continuing in concentric circles all the way to the centre. If there are any gaps fill them with an apple quarter – you should reach the point were inserting another quarter causes one to pop up elsewhere.
- Place the remaining butter over the apples and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Roll out the puff pastry to about 1.5 cm thick and trim to a slightly larger circle than the pan you are using. Place it over the pan and tuck the excess around the edge. Cut a very small hole in the centre to let out the steam which helps stop your pastry getting soggy.
- Place in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes. Then turn the heat up to 210 degrees Celsius and cook for a further 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Turn the tarte tatin out onto a plate. Do this carefully but bravely and in one motion. In the restaurants they cover their entire arm with a tea towel to make sure they won’t burn themselves – the risk is very low! Sprinkle with a little more sea salt.
- Serve with a little crème fraiche mixed some icing sugar and vanilla essence or with some ice-cream or just by itself.