Tart Tatin (Serves 4 to 6)
This, without a doubt, is the best loved tarte in France. Culinary legend has it that two Tatin sisters ran a small hotel and restaurant in the French region of Sologne (the Loire Valley, Western France). Times were hard and good help expensive. On a particularly busy day, one of the sisters forgot to put the pastry in her tart pan before adding the apples, so she arranged it as a lid over the fruit before putting it in the oven. To serve, she tipped the tart onto a plate, allowing the juices to pool around the browned, crisp pastry. Her customers were delighted and a tradition was born!
Some helpful hints:
*Suggested apples are: Fujis, Criterions, Winesaps, or Northern Spies. Jonagolds or Golden Delicious will work too, but if you used them, sprinkle the apples with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice right before you put the pastry over them. Otherwise, you won't get the proper taste.
*The 3 rules of Tarte Tatin:
1. Leave the apples in quarters and fit as many into the pan as possible.
2. The caramel must be good, rich, and dark, which will only happen through long, slow, cooking.
3. The tart MUST be served warm, otherwise it is considered inedible!
Now the recipe:
1/4 cup of softened butter
1/2 cup of Vanilla Sugar (see below for recipe)
6 large apples
fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup of Calvados or Apple Brandy
1 Pâte Brisée (tart dough), rolled out (see below for recipe)
2 cups Vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche
The pan you choose for Tarte Tatin is important as it must be able to withstand cooking on a stovetop and in the very hot oven with extremely hot caramelizing sugar. A heavy-bottomed seasoned cast-iron pan is preferable.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 390°F. Measure your pan and cut your pastry sheet into a round disc to fit as a lid. Cover the pastry so it doesn't dry out and put it aside for later. Peel and core the apples, then cut into quarters. Brush with lemon juice so they do not brown. Melt the butter and sugar together in the pan and slowly cook together until the sugar dissolves. Add the apple brandy and bring to a boil for 5 minutes.
Arrange the apple quarters in the sugar mixture in a snug even pattern. Begin at the outside edge and stand the quarters on their sides, facing in one direction with stem ends toward the center. Pack the apples as close together as possible, gently pushing them together so they are held standing by pressure. Make a second circle of apples inside the first, packing them in on their edges as well. Place two apple quarters right in the center of the second circle to fill in the small space that remains. The idea is to get as many apples into the pan as possible, while keeping them nicely arranged.
Cook over a slow to medium heat for around 20 minutes until the apples are slightly soft and the sugar has begun to caramelize. Place the pastry round securely on top of the apples. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Place a serving dish over the pan and flip upside down to release the dessert, so that the pastry is underneath. Serve at once, Cut tarte into wedges and serve hot or warm with vanilla ice cream. or creme fraiche. Add some lemon zest to the creme friache or ice cream for a pleasant contrast. Serve with a glass of Apple Brandy.
Pâte Brisée (Tart Dough)
Yield: 1 (10-inch) tart dough
1-¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup very cold water
Combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a food processor and pulse for approximately 15-20 seconds, or until it resembles coarse cornmeal. With the motor running, add the water; the motor should not run for more than 20 seconds. Remove the dough from the machine and shape it into a disk measuring approximately inches across and 1-1/2 inches thick. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Makes 1 cup
If you go to the grocery store in France, you will find Vanilla Sugar in small little packets. Well, we don't have that luxury here so....
1 cup sugar
½ fresh vanilla bean, or 1 used vanilla bean
Pour the sugar into an airtight container, and push the vanilla beans down into the sugar. Cover and let ripen for at least 1 week. Replenish the sugar as you use it, pouring out the sugar that is already flavored, adding new sugar to the container, and topping it with the flavored sugar. Replace the vanilla beans once every 2 months.