I like the idea that there are no mistakes in life since you can always learn something from your foibles, and a new path can often be a better one. I’m not so sure this theory is always true when it comes to cooking, especially when making French recipes, as I’ve had more than one soufflé fall and many a béarnaise break.
I think that’s why I love the story of the origin of the tarte tatin. One of the tales has it that the tarte tatin was born of a mistake by Stéphanie Tatin in southern France. Legend has it that she accidentally overcooked some apples she was preparing for a pie, so she thought she’d hide her mistake by covering them with some dough and putting them in the oven to bake. When she took the pan out, she flipped it over, hoping her mistake was now hidden underneath, and she revealed a beautiful upside-down apple tart that people loved.
Mistake or not, the tarte tatin is one of my favorite French desserts, especially this time of year when apples are at their peak. I love that you only need a few ingredients to make this tart, especially if you use a premade pastry dough, as I did here, which works perfectly well and allows you to focus your time on getting the apple, butter and sugar mixture just right.
There are many different ways to cut and place the apples, but I find that quartering allows the most butter and sugar to penetrate the surface. I also think flipping the quarters halfway through cooking allows each and every edge of the apple to get a really nice caramelized texture and flavor, and that is what you’re doing it for, n’est-ce pas?
The finale of flipping the baked apples over the plate takes some confidence and a swift turn of the hand to reveal your creation. It may not be picture perfect on your first try, but remember, great things can come from cooking mistakes!
Makes one 9-inch tart.
6 tart apples (for example, Granny Smith)
6 tablespoons butter
¾ cup sugar
1 package of puff pastry dough
a handful of flour for rolling out the dough
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Flour an open surface and place pastry dough on flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out larger than the 9-inch pan you will be using to make the tart.
3. Peel, halve and cut the core from the apples, and then halve them again so you have quarters.
4. Place a heavy, oven-safe pan, 9 inches in diameter, over low heat and melt the butter.
5. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring to combine. Return to heat for 5 minutes.
6. Take the pan off the heat and place the apple halves next to each other in concentric circles, starting along the outside rim of the pan. Tuck the apples under each other, as they will shrink while cooking. Place the remaining apples in the middle. Save whatever won’t fit in the pan until the arranged apples reduce in size, and then fold the extras into any open space.
7. Once the apples are in the pan, cook for approximately 10 minutes over high heat until the butter-sugar mixture bubbles and turns a golden amber.
8. Remove from heat, and gently turn each apple so the uncooked side facing up is now exposed to the pan and has an opportunity to caramelize. You can use a fork and knife together to flip the apples, but try not to pierce the skin.
9. Return the pan to the heat for about 5 minutes to allow the other side of the apples to cook, but be sure not to let the butter-sugar mix burn.
10. Once cooked, remove from heat and place rolled out dough across the top of the apples, taking care not to burn your fingers on the hot pan. Use a fork or knife to tuck the dough down the sides of the pan. Score a few slits on top.
11. Place pan in the oven for 20–25 minutes, or until the crust turns golden brown.
12. Remove from oven, and place pan on a cooling rack for 30 minutes.
13. After cooling, take a knife and run it around the edges of the pan to loosen the tart. Place a plate larger than the width of the pan on top, and with a swift flip, turn the tart onto the plate.
14. If some of the apples are stuck to the pan, place them back in the tart. Serve with ice cream or crème fraîche.