Make this French classic in your own kitchen – basically, an upturned apple pie with layers of sweet caramelised apple slices atop a crisp pastry dough. Perfect with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.
Apple tart tatin is essentially an upside-down apple, or sometimes pear, tart. The fruit is cooked in an oven-proof dish or skillet, and a rolled-out piece of pastry dough is placed over and on top of the caramelised fruit. The skillet or pan is then placed in the oven to bake.
When done, the entire tart is turned upside down to show off the juicy caramelised fruit on top. The thickness of the tarte tatin is similar to that of a thick crust pizza with toppings, as only a single layer of fruit is used. I enjoy apple pie immensely, but I absolutely adore apple tarte tatin! This is such a treat when eaten warm with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.
But first, any discussion of apple tarte tatin really should tell a little of its history – how it came to be enjoyed as a French classic over the past century. Yes, I did say century! It is told that the tarte tatin’s name commemorates the Tatin sisters who lived in the Loire Valley in the early twentieth century and made their living selling it. The French call it tarte des demoiselles Tatin or ‘the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin’.
Many a great dish was born out of mishap or accident in the kitchen, and so it was as well with the tarte tatin. The story goes that the Tatin sisters had accidentally overcooked the apples and in a hurry to serve the dish, simply covered the fruit with pastry, baked it and served it to their customers. It was such a runaway success to say the least, and the rest is … well, quite literally, history!
There are many recipes for apple tarte tatin available but I’ve used this one many times and I like it for its simplicity and great results. Still one of the best tarte tatin recipes ever.
Don’t worry about trying to get your tarte tatin out neatly and together in one piece, as you overturn your pan or skillet – my apple slices stick to the base of the skillet all the time, and it’s not uncommon to have the pastry edges break up. I simply do a little ‘corrective’ arrangement by placing the ‘missing’ slices back in their places on the tart!
Just remember that the caramelised juices stiffen as it is left to rest longer, which we don’t want as the apple pieces are likely to stick to the pan when you overturn the skillet – and you’ll have a tarte tatin with dented, empty impressions of where the fruit slices were. Think of how our gums missing some teeth would look like! So do remove the tart about 15 minutes after it comes out from the oven.
Also, be very careful when you overturn your pan or skillet, as the fruit juices could run out from the edges of the pan or skillet as you overturn it. While I enjoy making a tarte tatin in my cast iron skillet, I’ve come to realise that overturning it required a titanic effort! And it could be dangerous too! I don’t know about you, but I have upper arm muscles the size of cotton balls, so I had to recruit my hubby for this task. Do wear oven mitts that cover more of your lower arm, or drape a large kitchen towel over your arm as a precaution.
Apple Tarte Tatin
- 1 2/3 cup plain flour
- 125 g unsalted butter chilled, cubed
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 2 drops vanilla essence
- 8 Granny Smith apples, medium-sized peeled, cored, cut into 8 wedges or slices
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1 tbsp water
- 40 g unsalted butter chopped, extra
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon rind (optional)
For the Pastry Dough
- Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter, using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Stir in 2 tbsp caster sugar. Make a well in the centre, add the egg and vanilla essence. Using a flat bladed scraper, mix together using a cutting action until the mixture comes together in beads. Gather the dough together, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, to firm.
For the Apple Filling
- Place the sugar and 1 tbsp water in a heavy-based 25-cm (10-inch) oven proof skillet or pan that has a metal or removable handle so that it can safely be placed in the oven. Stir over low heat for 1 minute or until the sugar has dissolved.
- Increase the heat to medium and cook for 4 - 5 minutes, or until the caramel turns golden. (Note: It is normal for the liquid sugar to turn dry, coarse and grainy as the water evaporates. Keep stirring until all of the sugar dissolves again and starts to caramelize, turning golden brown.)
- Add the extra butter and stir to incorporate. Keep stirring vigorously until all the butter has been incorporated. Remove from heat.
- Place the apple slices in neat circles to cover the base of the skillet or pan. Sprinkle ground cinnamon and grated lemon zest (optional) over the slices. Return the pan to low heat and cook for 10 - 12 minutes, until the apples lose some of its water content, and become tender and caramelized. Be careful not to let too much fluid evaporate. Remove the pan from heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Putting the Dish Together
- Pre-heat oven to 220 deg C (425 deg F). Roll out the pastry dough to a circle 1 cm (1/2-inch) larger than the frying pan. Place the pastry over the apples to cover them completely, tucking it down firmly at the edges. Cut 4 small holes around the centre of the pastry dough.
- Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until the pastry is cooked. Leave for 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate. (Note: Be careful when inverting the skillet or pan - wear long oven mitts that cover the lower arm in case the hot caramel juices run out of the pan.)
- Serve warm with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.