The idea of making an Apple Tart in a caramelized, upside-down fashion isn’t new, featuring in various instances in Northern France recipes. Careme himself mentions “gâteaux renversés” in his 1841 “Patissier Royal Parisien,” glazed and using apples from Rouen. It’s said the actual dish and technique itself is named “Tarte Solognotte,” named after the Sologne region in which it became a specialty.
But its fame never stood out until the late, late 1800’s, when two sisters within that Sologne region opened up a hotel. They may not have officially invented it, but Stephanie and Caroline Tatin’s famous dessert brought the “Tarte Tatin” to the forefront of popularity, even though they never advertised nor released a recipe; the name itself was written by the famous French epicure and auther Curnonsky.
And their “happening” upon the dish is a funny story, depending on who you choose to believe, if anybody. For of course many claim an “accidental creation” by the sisters, and in more ways than one. There have been those who state one of the sisters accidentally put a regular tart in the oven upside-down. While others say that the apples for a pie filling started to burn one day, so they quickly covered in dough and moved to an oven to try and salvage. Whatever the story, and whether any of it is actually true, the fact remains that the sumptuously caramelized dessert vaulted to the forefront of epicurean popularity, especially after the owner of Maxim’s in Paris decided to place it on their menu.
And the rest is history. We now see the Tarte Tatin lauded in various blogs, randomly discussed in Pastry classes, used in classic and modern interpretations throughout wherever, featured in an episode of the Simpsons Ratatouille-Anton-Ego-remeniscent-even-though-the-damn-“flashback where he enjoyed “Tarte Tatin a-la-mode”-was-using-a-slice-of-regular-apple-pie-instead-of-proper-tarte-tatin-the-lazy-and-insulting-bastards… etc.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
How I see it, there are two main ways to make one of these well. The first, and most easily controlled, method is to simply make a caramel in the saucepan, then arrange the apples (cooking a bit more if desired) on top and baking. The second is cooking the sugar, butter, and apples all together until it caramelizes completely. I personally prefer the latter, since it feels a bit more classic, plus I love the idea of all the flavors mingling and developing together at the same time. Though the first method is great for trying out OTHER kinds of tart tatins (pear, peach, mango, etc).
One main note; when cooking the mixture, which will boil quite vigorously (no need to worry, it settles down a lot once taken off the stove), one needs to make sure it’s at a nicely medium-high to high temperature. If it’s too low, the apples will soften to almost mush before it caramelizes (in fact the apple half I was gonna use as my “centerpiece,” which I had put in first, split in half just as I was about finished). Too high isn’t much of an issue though; other recipes say “too low is mush, and too high the apples won’t cook enough,” which is complete bull. I actually replaced my ruined center with two RAW quarters, and those were completely cooked after I took it out of the oven.
Though one should take care to keep the apples moving around when cooking it hot; as you’ll see a couple of mine started to get some burns. Though on the other hand I think that actually stayed stuck to the pan after flipping, leaving just the beautifully smooth and caramelly apple top.
As for the apples themselves, the truly French classics are made using a couple varieties called “Reine des Reinettes” (King of the Pippins) and “Calville.” Good luck, if you can find them in the US then a miracle has taken place (and please tell me where and how you did it!). Otherwise, basic baking/pie apples work as a good substitution, such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala, and Jonathan; I went with Braeburn myself.
In the matter of dough, though quite a few recipes call for and some other pages say you “can use” Puff Pastry, in theoretics it should always be made by some kind of Shortcrust or other flaky Pie dough; if you wanted to stay traditional that is.
5-6 Braeburn, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala or similar apples
4 oz (1 stick) Butter
1 cup Sugar
Basic Pie Dough (recipe follows)
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- In a wide-bottomed pan set to Medium-High, melt the Butter.
- Once melted (or close to), sprinkle in your Sugar, stirring to incorporate until the grains dissolve somewhat.
- While waiting for that to happen, quickly peel, quarter, and cut the cores out of your first 3-4 apples.
- Toss them into the pan, turning to coat in the sugary fat.
- As space opens up through cooking, peel and quarter the remaining apples (as needed) to fill the pan in as complete a single layer as possible.
- Let cook for about 20 minutes, or until the bubbling sugar gets well caramelized. Stir every so often to ensure apples don’t burn and caramel is evenly distributed.
- Remove, letting the caramel settle and arranging the apples, cut side up (so the uncut side will be up once flipped), in the pattern desired.
- Prepare the Crust. Flour and roll out the dough in a large enough circle to cover the pan, trimming and cutting around a lid or similarly sized item.
- Fold (or roll over pin, your preference) and move it over the apples to cover completely. Poke a few small holes around the dough to ensure venting.
- Place in oven, baking 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
- Remove, letting cool at least 10 minutes for the caramel to set somewhat.
- Place serving plate or other pan over top, quickly and carefully flipping. Fix any apples that may have stuck, slice into wedges, and serve however desired (ice cream with cookies and meringue is good…).
Basic Pie Dough
2 ½ cup Flour
8 oz (2 sticks) Butter, cold
¼-½ cup Iced Water
- Combine Flour and Salt
- Chop the cold Butter into small pieces, adding them in. With your fingertips or in a food processor, start working the butter into the dough, pulsing or kneading it until the flour has a cornmeal-ish AND a good amount of pea-sized butter pieces.
- Slowly drizzle in ¼ cup of Water, mixing it into the dough quickly until it comes together/pulls from the side, adding more water as necessary.
- Divide in half, press into a flat round and wrap in plastic. Move into the fridge for at least an hour before use.
What is it about cooked apples and pie crust that makes us so damn insatiable, craving bite after bite until the whole damn baking dish is gone? I blame the butter, mainly in the crust but especially in the caramel for this old dessert. The whole thing was gone before the end of the night.
Really rich, sticky, toffee-like caramel, much of which was leftover in the cooking pan to spoon up and chow down as is (look at it hang off that spoon!). The apples were just so soft and sweet and yum, contrast this with the perfectly crispy crunchy crust and this just makes a craveable after-dinner treat. I was actually worried about the crust, too, since as you can see in the pics some caramel had sorta “soaked through” part of it during cooking, but even that was still crispy. Oh, and that was after the raw dough just sat on top of the wet caramel for like half an hour or more (we were supposed to be at a certain point in dinner prep, but certain people were just sloooowwww and didn’t inform me until AFTER getting the pie dough on); so suffice it to say it’s a pretty durable recipe.
End of the day, I liked it and really wanna make it again, maybe with some different fruit.
Deep, richly flavored caramelized apples? Sounds like a job for Calvados to me, the signature apple brandy of Northern France. If you can find an amazingly old, smoothly aged XO or similar quality bottle, that would make for quite the divine experience.
Though a deliciously syrupy glass of dessert wine wouldn’t be too bad either. Despite the regional closeness though, I don’t think any of the Loire dessert wines would work so well, at least not with THIS version of Tarte Tatin. They’re usually of the lighter, medium sweet variety, great with cheeses and lighter desserts. So unless one found a REALLY old, concentrated Quarts de Chaume (like a grand cru of the dessert region) or have a tarte tatin that’s not so deep with caramel, then I say go with another region.
Good quality, deeply colored old Sauternes; Selection des Grains Nobles from Alsace; Tokaji Aszu from Hungary, preferably of the higher puttonyo range; the Brown Stickies (Muscats, Tawnies, whatever they call them) from Australia, and, oh, a PX (pedro ximenez) from Sherry. All rich, syrupy, delectably sticky drinks influenced by botrytis, barrel ageing, oxidation, or a combination of all three. There are so many more similar fortified and dessert wines which jump up (god I want a Marsala right now), but this is a good starter list.
Truthfully, those are all probably TOO sweet and heavy for the actual dish, but I just can’t help but craaavveeee them whenever I think of this caramelly caramelly pie. Guess I’ve got a sweet tooth.
Actually, thinking about what would make a more “proper” and technical pairing, a dry Oloroso Sherry. It has those deep and complex flavors, matching oxidized caramelization, and I think the salty levels would juxtapose the sweetness in a fun way. Or maybe an Amontillado, which would still have some yeasty characters, which would pair nicely with the pie crust.
Huh, a little more chatter with my dessert pairings than I usually try for. Oh well, pie and super-sweet wines gets me excited. Don’t forget to look into beers as well!