Accident in a French hotel turns the dessert world upside-down
The origins of tarte Tatin can be traced to two French sisters, Carolina and Stephanie Tatin, who lived in Lamotte-Beuvron, a small rural town in the Loire Valley of France.
The sisters in 1888 owned and ran Hotel Tatin, according to online culinary resource What’s Cooking America.
“The elder sister, Stephanie, dealt with the kitchen,” according to the publication. “She was a particularly fine cook, but was not the brightest of people. Her specialty was an apple tart, served perfectly crusty, caramelized and which melted in the mouth.”
But on a particularly hectic day, Stephanie Tatin placed a tart in the oven the wrong way round, so the legend goes.
“The pastry and apples were upside-down, but, nevertheless, she served this strange dessert without giving it time to cool,” according to the publication.
It was a hit. And the rest is history.
This upside-down apple tart, traditionally made in a heavy cast-iron frying pan, can be made with puff pastry or a sweet short pastry.
The classic French recipe is slightly too rich, heavy and sweet to enjoy at the end of a meal, so this recipe uses less butter and sugar. Tart, crisp apples are best for the filling; pack them together tightly.
Classic Tarte Tatin
Pastry: Makes a 12-inch tart
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
2 1⁄2 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons ice water
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
About 4 1⁄2 pounds apples, such as Granny Smith, McIntosh
A 12-inch heavy frying pan or skillet with an ovenproof handle, or a tarte Tatin mold.
To make the pastry, put flour, salt and sugar in bowl of the processor and pulse until mixed. Add the diced butter and process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
With the machine running, add the egg yolk and ice water, and process until the mixture binds together to form a firm but not dry dough. If there are dry crumbs, gradually add a little more water. Wrap and chill while preparing apples. If you don’t own a processor, this can be done by hand.
Peel, core and halve the apples. Cut the butter into thin slices and arrange on the bottom of the skillet to cover completely. Sprinkle the sugar over to form an even layer. Arrange in the pan, on top of the butter and sugar, so the apples stand up vertically. Pack the apples tightly together so the tart won’t collapse in the oven.
Put the pan over medium heat on top of the stove and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the butter and sugar have formed a richly colored caramel, and all the moisture from the apples has evaporated. Remove from heat.
While the apples are cooking, preheat the oven to 425 F.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round to fit over the pan. Gently cover the apples completely and quickly tuck the edges of the crust down inside the pan, then prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown and crisp.
Cool slightly, then loosen the edges of the crust and turn out the tart upside down so the pastry is under the caramelized apples. Eat warm or at room temperature, with ice cream or crème fraîche.
Pro tip: Don’t put the pastry on top of the apples until they’re sitting in a good brown caramel or the tart will be soggy and lack flavor.
Phil Newton is a Galveston baker/cook. He’s the owner/operator of Stiglich Corner with partner Cindy Roberts.