November 17th, 2013: Greg resumes his periodic role as The Baking Wizard, pointing out the sticky spots involved in baking this classic French apple Tart Tatin. Jon reprises his role of Greek Chorus, offering frequent oohs of approval.
Tarte Tatin (adapted from Greg and Dorothy Patent's cookbook, A is for Apple)
1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter
4 tablespoons ice water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 pounds apples (see suggestions above, about 6 large or 7 medium)
1. To make the pastry, measure the flour by scooping a 1-cup dry measuring cup into the flour container to overflowing; sweep off the excess with a metal spatula. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut the stick of butter into tablespoon-size pieces and add them to the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour until particles are in largish lumps. Then, work the mixture rapidly between your fingertips to flatten the pieces of butter into flakes. Don’t be too thorough or the butter will soften. Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and toss and stir with a fork (one of those large blending forks works really well) just until the dough gathers together into a mass.
2. Press the dough into a 6-inch log and put it on your work surface with a short end facing you. Then, with the heel of your hand, and starting at the far end of the dough, “break” away and smear pieces of the dough until all the dough has been used. Gather up the dough, reshape it into a log, and repeat the process. This entire procedure should take you about 30 seconds, so remember to work quickly.
3. Shape the dough into a 5-inch disk, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (Dough may be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated).
4. When ready to make the tarte, adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375oF. For the caramel-apple filling, melt the 8 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast-iron pan or in a Tarte Tatin pan over medium-low heat. Stir in the sugar. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the mixture turns into a smooth, dark caramel syryp. This will take about 15 minutes. At first the mixture will look granular; then it may lump up. Don’t despair. The sugar will gradually melt and become smooth and a rich dark brown color. The butter and sugar will not be completely combined, however. Don’t be alarmed. What’s important is that the sugar is properly caramelized. Don’t go too far or the caramel will burn. When the caramelization is complete, remove the pan from heat and set it aside to cool slightly while you prepare the apples.
5. Quarter, core, and peel the apples. Cut each quarter lengthwise into two or three wedges: two if the apples are of medium size, three if the apples are large. Each wedge should be about 1/2-inch at its widest point. Arrange a single layer of apples in an attractive concentric pattern on the bottom of the pan, pressing the fruit into the butter and syrup. Add the remaining apples to the pan in no particular order, but mound them slightly in the center.
6. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to a 10-inch circle. Don’t be concerned about rough-looking edges. Carefully lay the pastry over the filling, and tuck excess dough down around the inside of the pan. With the tip of a small, sharp knife, make 4 small steam vents in a square pattern about 2 inches from the center of the dough. Bake about 1 hour, until the pastry is well-browned and you can see the caramel syrup bubbling actively around the edges.
7. Now comes the tricky part. Is the apple filling too juicy? Has the caramel been diluted to the point where it needs more cooking? Chances are the answers are yes. When the tarte comes out of the oven, carefully tilt the pan and observe how liquidy the filling is. If the juices are so thick that they’ve been almost all absorbed by the apples, then the tarte is done.
8. If the juices tell you there’s more cooking to be done, set the pan over medium-low heat and cook, shaking the pan occasionally (remember to use a potholder as the handle will be hot), until the liquid is very thick and syrupy. This can sometimes take 10 to 15 minutes, or even longer, depending on the type of apple you’ve used. When the syrup is just right, very thick, and when you tip the pan you hardly see any, the tarte is ready to be unmolded.
9. Place a serving platter over the pastry, hold it in place with a potholder, and grasp the handle of the pan with another potholder. Quickly invert the two and set the platter and pan down on your countertop. Wait a few seconds and slowly lift off the pan. If everything has worked out properly, the top layer of apples should be in a neat pattern. Often I find the slices have moved apart a bit. To remedy that, use a small metal spatula to smooth them together.
10. Cool the tarte on its serving platter and serve it warm or at room temperature, plain or with crème anglaise, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Makes 8 servings.