A Caramelized Upside-Down Apple Pie
The French Tarte Tatin is a traditional apple pie with a twist: it’s cooked upside down, apples down below and pastry up top, and flipped onto the presentation dish while it’s still hot. This way the apples are slow-cooked in caramel, which makes them soft and flavorsome, while the pastry remains crispy. Why upside down? What a strange idea!!
There are many different stories on the origins of this dish. It was created – inadvertently, as for many pastries – by two sisters by the name of Tatin who ran a famous restaurant in the small town of Lamotte–Beuvron (170 km / 110 miles South of Paris) in the early twentieth century. The restaurant, which actually still exists under the name “Relais Tatin”, was at that time a hunting lodge and was the scene for three possible scenarios.
On the very first day of the hunting season, Stephanie Tatin apparently made a drastic error – according to stories she either let the preparation burn in the oven creating the caramel, or dropped the dish – and tried to cover her mistake by hiding the apples under the pastry. Yet another version is that the young cook, distracted by thoughts of her lover, added the ingredients in the wrong order.
Whether it was last minute action to save a messed-up dish, or simply human error, the common point of these legends is the need to get a dessert ready at all costs so that the customers will have something to eat. This apple pie quickly became a specialty of the restaurant. The renowned food critic Curmonsky discovered it by chance, loved it and promoted it in Paris. First served at the famous Parisian restaurant Maxim’s, it instantly became a master piece of French cuisine.
Error or rush-job by the Tatin sisters? Pre-existing regional dish revisited? Myth invented by Curmonsky to create a buzz? Doubts still linger…
Preparation time: 30 minutes, sit for 1 to 2 hours
Cooking time: 1h
Quantity: 8 serves
Specific equipment: none
Apple: 12 Apples
Choose a variety that is neither too firm nor too soft when cooked, ideally Cox’s orange pippin (Reinettes) variety. Apples of the same size will improve the visual aspect.
75 gr butter
200 gr sugar
250 gr all-purpose flour
125 gr butter
50 ml cold water
1 egg yolk (20 gr)
Pinch of salt
Depending on your taste, you can opt for sweet pastry by adding 40 gr of sugar
Prepare the pie pastry, leave it for 1 to 2 hours. Prepare the caramel, add some pieces of butter, followed by the apples (peeled and quartered), stretch the pastry dough, cover the apples and bake.
Preparation of the pie pastry. Follow the step by step guidelines here (with a slightly different crust, you can choose either one).
Gently with your fingertips mix the flour, salt and finely-diced butter. The texture should become like sand.
Tip: As much as possible try to avoid having your skin in contact with the butter – therefore quickly pour the flour around the butter – and avoid mixing too long with your fingers otherwise the butter will melt.
Add the water and the egg yolk. Mix them in, again with your fingertips, until you have a smooth uniform mixture.
You can also do this with your mixer (with the leaf utensil).
Knead the dough twice (Put the dough on a floured surface, crush it with the palm of your hand and reshape a ball. This process aerates the dough so it will not shrink in the oven). Cover with plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 1 to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F).
Peel the apples, remove the cores and cut them into quarters.
Prepare the caramel. If possible, make it directly in the baking pan. Quite often caramel is done by heating a mixture of sugar and water. Performed dry however, without water, you have much higher chances of success because the sugar will caramelize more slowly. However, you must keep the sugar moving constantly so that the caramel will form the same way all over your pan (the chef’s guild strictly forbids mixing with a spatula!). In a pre-heated pan, add the sugar gradually. Move the pan in all directions until the mixture melts and the color is uniform. When your substance acquires a light amber color, remove from the stove and add the pieces of butter. This will help in the final stage of removal from the pan.
Arrange the apples neatly on the caramel (the round part facing the caramel). You can fill gaps with small pieces of the remaining apples.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for a few minutes so that it won’t be too cold. Lay it out on a clean, floured surface, flatten the dough with a rolling pin to stretch it to a circle of the correct size (1 cm bigger than you pan). Put it on top of the apples, tuck the edges of the pastry into the pan
Bake for 1 hour at 170°C (340°F).
Turn the tart out by placing a flat plate on top and flipping it immediately after taking it out the oven to prevent the caramel from hardening.
The tarte tatin is normally eaten warm, often served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, although purists, such as members of the Brotherhood of Lichonneux of the Tarte Tatin, prefer it unadorned.
You can make variations with various fruits (pears, tomatoes …) and even vegetables (my eggplant and balsamic vinegar Tarte Tatin is a real delight, though I’ll wait until next summer, as I like to respect seasons).