I first encountered Tarte Tatin in early 1974, when I lived briefly with the Pinelli family at their small hotel in Monte Carlo. Raymonde Pinelli loved apples in all forms and had beautiful 19th-century earthenware Calvados jugs in the shape of apples, which I have to confess I coveted. Raymonde’s method of preparing Tarte Tatin involved repeatedly turning wedges of her favorite apples, les Golden, in a buttery caramel in a flimsy aluminum tart pan set atop a flame tamer on her big commercial range. She used a tender sweet dough to cover the apples before baking, which is pleasant enough, but buttery puff pastry, especially in combination with caramel, is much better. I retained one thing from her recipe, though: The apples need plenty of caramel and butter to achieve the best flavor.
Makes one 9- to 10-inch tart, about 8 to 10 servings
1/2 batch (12 ounces) Quick Puff Pastry (see below)
2 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice, measured after straining
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
One 9- or 10-inch nonstick sloping-sided sauté pan
- Roll the dough to an 11-inch disk. Slide it onto a cookie sheet and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough while preparing the filling.
- Peel, halve and core the apples. Cut each half into 3 wedges. Cover and set aside while preparing the caramel.
- Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 375˚F.
- Combine the sugar, lemon juice, water, and butter in the sauté pan and use a wooden spoon to mix. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often so that the butter is absorbed by the syrup and does not separate from it.
- At the boil, decrease the heat to medium low and continue cooking until the syrup begins to color. Check the color of the syrup by picking up a spoonful and letting it drip back into the pan: the caramel always looks darker when concentrated in the pan. Pull the pan from the heat as the caramel continues to darken but is not quite finished; it will continue to cook and color more deeply from the heat retained by the pan. If it stays too light, return the pan to the heat and cook until only slightly darker, removing the pan again and checking the color after a minute. At this point the caramel is safe from over-darkening.
- Arrange the apple wedges in the caramel rounded side down, crowding them close together in a row perpendicular to the side of the pan. Fill in the center with more wedges, then scatter any remaining apple pieces over the others.
- Place the pan over low heat to melt the caramel again. Remove from the heat and slide the disk of chilled dough onto the apples. Push the dough inward toward the center of the pan so that it fits inside the pan even though it’s larger. This will compensate for any shrinkage while the dough is baking.
- Bake the tart until the dough is baked through and the apples have absorbed the caramel and are no longer watery, about 50 to 60 minutes.
- Cool the tart in the pan on a rack until it is lukewarm. To unmold the tart, invert a platter onto the pan and invert again, firmly grasping the platter with one hand and the handle of the pan with the other. Protect both hands with oven mitts in case some hot syrup drips out of the pan. Lift off the pan.
Quick Puff Pastry
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds dough
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold water
- Cut 2 sticks of the butter into 1/4-inch cubes. Scrape them onto a plate in one layer and refrigerate them.
- Put the flour and salt in a bowl and stir a couple of times to combine. Cut the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into thin slivers and add to the bowl. Rub in the butter, squeezing it with your fingertips, rubbing the butter and flour mixture between the palms of your hands and reaching down to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat until the flour and butter are evenly mixed. This only takes a couple of minutes; the mixture should remain cool and powdery. Alternately, pulse the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until no visible pieces of butter remain, then pour the mixture into a bowl.
- Add the refrigerated butter cubes to the bowl and use a rubber spatula to fold them in.
- Set aside 2 tablespoons of the measured water and sprinkle the remaining water on the flour and butter mixture. Use the rubber spatula to fold everything together, scraping from the bottom of the bowl upward. If there are a lot of dry bits of unmoistened flour, sprinkle on the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, folding it in as before.
- Scrape the dough from the bowl to a floured work surface and lightly flour the dough. Use your hands to squeeze and shape the dough into a cylinder, then press down with the palm of one hand to flatten it into a rectangle.
- Flour the surface and the dough, and starting at the narrow end of the rectangle farthest from you, use a rolling pin to press the dough firmly in parallel strokes close to each other. If there are sticky pieces of butter on the surface of the dough, seal them with a large pinch of flour, making sure to clean off anything stuck to the rolling pin before continuing. Repeat the pressing motion again from the close to farther narrow end of the dough.
- Press the dough once along the width; it should now be a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Once again, flour under and on top of the dough and roll the dough away and back toward you in the length and once in the width, without rolling over the ends in the same direction, to make a rectangle about 18 inches long and 8 inches wide.
- Fold the two 8-inch ends of the dough in toward the middle of the rectangle, leaving a 1-inch space in the middle. Fold the bottom up to the top to form 4 layers of dough. Reposition the dough so that the folded edge that resembles the spine of a book is on your left. Rolling and folding the dough is known as “giving the dough a turn.”
- Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8.
- Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8 again.
- Wrap the dough and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours to firm up and rest its elasticity before attempting to use it.