My wickedly overpriced mini-tarte tatin (PHP150) from Diamond Hotel Bakery a few weeks ago reminded me to make a normal sized tarte tatin at home. I have made this delicious dessert several times before, but oddly, I don’t think I have written a post about it. It is so incredibly simple to make, so beautiful to look at, and almost always, simply delicious. If you dress it up with some whipped cream or good vanilla ice cream, it ranks up there in the top 10 global desserts, in my book anyway. A couple of years ago I featured an even more stunning pineapple upside down cake which is worth a re-visit, here, if you are into these caramelized fruit and pastry desserts…
I have referred to several different tarte tatin recipes over the years, but my most recent reference has been Patricia Wells’ “The Paris Cookbook,” though I don’t follow her recipe strictly. One of her suggestions is to find an apple you have access to and if it works well, stick to it. It is great advice as I have tried tarte tatins with Granny Smith’s (got too mushy), red or golden delicious (disaster since the locally available ones are awfully mealy), royal galas (too mushy, surprisingly) and fuji’s. I find that using the smaller fuji’s, probably imported from China, works the best out of the locally available apples, though I lament the lack of access to Northern Spies, Winesaps and other great apples from North America and elsewhere.
Here is the way I make the Tarte Tatin. Use a 9-10 inch heavy cast iron pan with at least 2 inch sides. Peel and core 10 small to medium sized, fresh and CRISP fuji apples. If you want a beautiful pie without gaps, err on peeling too many apples, perhaps even up to 12 small fujis for a 10-inch pan. Slice the peeled apples in half vertically, so that you have about 20-24 pieces. Next, sprinkle just under one cup of white granulated sugar onto the bottom of the cast iron pan (I sometimes use vanilla sugar, which is white sugar that has been placed in a large container with several vanilla beans, so the sugar is already infused with spectacular fresh vanilla flavor… this is the ideal choice for marketman). Next add about 8-10 tablespoons of good sweet (unsalted) butter in little clumps distributed over the sugar. Add generous drops of pure vanilla extract (artificial okay if you don’t have the real thing), all over the sugar if you are using plain white sugar and butter. Then carefully arrange the apple halves in concentric circles, with the core side facing up or to the ceiling.
In other words, the rounded sides of the apples are facing down. Refer to the picture above. I only had 8 apples at the beach when we made this, so it is a bit “loose” but you really should try to pack them in a bit so that the resulting pie looks really well “covered” with caramelized apples. Turn the heat up to medium and once it starts to gurgle, turn it down to low and let this just simmer for about 50-60 minutes, or until it just starts to get a light brown color. Patience is truly a virtue on this one. Do not rush the process, you will be rewarded with superb flavor if you take this slow. However, if you are at about 40-45 minutes and it seems to be going too slow, cover your pan for a minute or two and the bubbling should increase a bit and remove the cover and let it continue to simmer. Baste the apples every so often with a pastry brush to ensure that they cook a little more evenly. Not to worry if some apples start to get a little brown, but do NOT burn them. When the sauce is a nice thick caramelized color, turn off the heat.
Pre-heat an oven to about 400 degrees or even slightly hotter. Next, with a thawed piece of puff pastry, cut out a circle that is big enough to cover the apples. Prick the puff pastry and place the puff pastry over the apples and stick the cast iron pan into the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry puffs up and turns a golden color. Remove from the oven and prepare for the hardest part of the recipe… You have to quickly but carefully flip this all over so that you get the apples on top. Be careful as the caramelized sugar is wickedly hot and CAN burn your skin badly. We flipped it onto a large pizza pan instead of a plate, and that made things a little easier. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The results? The photos speak for themselves. This was superb tarte tatin. The apples were soft yet not mushy. The dessert sweet but not cloyingly so. The color was dramatic and picture perfect. If I had peeled pistachios with me, chopped, I think it would have looked better than the Diamond hotel version. And the total cost was roughly PHP300 and easily served 10 guests, or PHP30 a slice, 1/5th the price of the Diamond Hotel mini-tarte. My only criticism is that the pastry does tend to get soggy rather quickly, particularly here in the tropics. Nevertheless, this is one truly easy and spectacular dessert. If you can’t find puff pastry, you can make other types of pie pastry and use that instead. Hmmm, if this is so easy, why can’t I find a decent tarte tatin in a Manila restaurant, or is there one that I haven’t tried???