A Tarte Tatin

September 17, 2010

What can I say? I am on a fall kick and can’t seem to stop…or actually, I think it is really just a caramel kick.

What is it that I’ve made now, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve made a tarte tatin. With apples and ginger and the most crumbly crust imaginable. And of course, with a deep and bittersweet caramel.

Maybe I need intervention. This caramel habit isn’t pretty. If there were a few more mouths to feed in this house, it might not be so bad. But there are only two. Aaron’s and mine. And, dang it, Aaron has a nasty case of “self control”. Whatever that is…

So I am left nearly alone in the battle against caramel. A war I am willing to wage because the carnage tastes mighty fine. But let me tell you, it has done nothing good for my thighs. Nothing. I’ve even resorted to running, friends. Yes. Me, moving quickly, breathing heavily, sweating profusely…all so I can eat more caramel with out living in stretchy pants and over-sized sweatshirts, not that there is anything wrong with that lifestyle. I just have a hankering to don skinny jeans every now and again.

Still want to make and eat a tarte tatin? And possibly sacrifice your well toned bodies? Me too. We’ll just fight this together.

I give you the illustrious, the elegant, the simple Tarte Tatin:

Gingered Apple Tarte Tatin

adapted from here

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

2-3 tablespoons ice water

1 cup and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, separated

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh or candied ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

5-6 firm and tart apples

kosher salt

whipped cream or créme fraîche (optional)

Once you have decided to make a tarte tatin, make sure you have a cast-iron skillet in your possession. Like I’ve said, and you probably already know, heavy pans help when making a caramel because they distribute heat more evenly, rather than letting the heat concentrate in one spot resulting in burned food (heaven forbid you carbonize your caramel and have to soak your pan for a week!)

Now that you have your pan, set it aside and collect your ingredients. Start by making the tarte dough first. And, as an aside: this was the absolute best pie/tarte dough I have ever made or eaten in memory. It is flaky, it is crumbly, it is buttery, it is  tender, but it is structural. All at once. A tarte lover’s dream.

To make the dough, combine your dry ingredients (flour & brown sugar) in a medium-sized bowl. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and cut into the flour with a fork or a pastry cutter (not your warm little hands) until the butter resembles a coarse meal with pea-sized balls of butter, don’t overwork it, it won’t look entirely uniform, but that’s ok.

Next, begin adding your ice water by drizzling it over the mixture, don’t just puddle it in one spot, make sure you spread it out a bit and share the love. Toss the flour around with your fork to help to further distribute the moisture. It may still be powdery in spots, don’t worry.  When you have added 2 tablespoons, squeeze some of the dough in your hand, if it holds together, it is ready, if it crumbles apart into powder, you still need to add more water. And, a note from personal experience, err on the side of too dry rather than too wet. Too much water makes a dense and chewier crust.

Once you believe you have added just enough water, turn out your mixture onto a decent sized piece of plastic wrap. Using the edge of the plastic, fold the dough over on itself, pressing until it comes together. This should take just around 10 folds (always be wary of over-working the dough). Once it has come together, more or less, wrap the dough in the very plastic wrap you were folding it on, form it into a disk, and pop it into the fridge to chill for 1 hour.

While the dough is relaxing and chilling, you may proceed in one of two ways: If you are highly proficient and a multi-tasker in the kitchen (not a putzer, like myself)  get your caramel going by pouring 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water into your cast-iron skillet over medium high heat, and then start peeling, and quartering your apples, all-the-while eyeing, swirling, and stirring your caramel as needed and adding the butter when the caramel has reached a nice amber brown. Between monitoring your caramel and prepping your apples, combine 1/2 cup sugar with the spices, a pinch of salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, and the minced ginger in a medium bowl. Once your apples are ready, toss them until coated in this mixture, then nestle them, cut side up, into the efficiently prepared caramel sauce in the cast-iron skillet. At some point in your precisely choreographed dance through the kitchen, preheat your oven to 425°F.

If this sounds like a complete and utter disaster waiting to happen, proceed as I did: peel your apples leisurely, observe how they oxidize because you are so talented at taking your time in the kitchen. And remind the impatient apples that it doesn’t matter anyways because they will be coated in a spicy, salted, deep caramel anyway and their color will be irrelevant.

And then chop one in half, just to emphasize your point and exercise your power and control in the kitchen.

Then realize that you should have mixed your spice and sugar mixture first, and focus all your attention on completing that task next. Toss in 1/2 cup sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg, the lemon zest followed by the juice, and finally the nearly forgotten ginger (it is a apple-ginger tarte tatin, after all), mix it all together. Once ready, toss in your apples and let them sit as your proceed onto the next step.

Proudly, remember you should preheat your oven at this point (425°F). Put your cast-iron skillet over medium high heat, add the cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.

While the heat works its magic on the sugar, fiddle and tinker about your kitchen, reorganizing spices, cleaning the counter, tossing your apple peels, and day dreaming. Then, in a panic, realize you can smell the out-of-sight, out-of-mind caramel, and rush to pull it off the heat just in the nick of time. Whew! Sigh with relief at the sight of a nicely brown caramel (close call!). Add a whole stick of butter (1/2 cup), stirring it into the melted sugar.

When that is done, take your already yellowed, sugared and spiced apples and snuggle them down into the caramel, cut side up.

Lastly pull your chilling dough out of the refrigerator, and roll it out on a floured surface, covering it with the plastic wrap to keep it from clinging to the rolling-pin. Roll it out to a diameter an inch or so wider than your cast iron skillet, and around 1/8 of an inch thick. Carefully transport and lay it over your apples and caramel sauce, tucking the edges around the apples inside the skillet. Cut 6-8 small vent holes with a paring knife, and place the skillet into your preheated oven. Make sure you put a sheet of tin foil, or a sheet pan beneath the skillet to catch any caramel that may bubble over.

Bake the tarte for 45 minutes, or until the caramel is bubbling and the crust is golden. Let the tarte cool for 15-20 minutes. Then run a knife around the tarte between the skillet and the crust to loosen. Place a serving platter over the skillet and then carefully, but quickly (and confidently) turn the tarte out onto the platter. If you hesitate while doing this, you might end up with molten caramel on your person. Which hurts badly. I don’t advise it. If you are unsure at your tarte inverting abilities, I recommend seeking out a friend or family member with a greater level of experience and or confidence.

Now, enjoy the fruits of your labor with a friend…or with a dollop of créme fråiche or whipped cream, either one will do the trick.

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4 Responses to “A Tarte Tatin”

  1. Susan said

    This looks so good, Rachel! It even looks good before you flip it out of the pan!
    What variety of apples did you use? I’m going to visit Iowa Orchards on Meredith Drive and see what’s ready. Cool weather makes me want to cook with apples too.

  2. You inspire me – I wish I had a good camera! I had lost the link to your blog somehow – Im so glad that you posted a comment so I could link back to yours! YAY!

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