30 October 2013

Tarte Tatin




For the past many years, each autumn, as apple season rolls around, I have it in mind to try my hand at making Tarte Tatin. With regards to ingredients, nothing could be simpler -- butter, sugar, apples, dough.  Four things if you go the pre-purchased puff pastry route, which I am not above. I am not above pre-purchasing puff pastry because it is a) an incredible hassle to make from scratch, and b) it seemed an infinitely better option than plain old pie dough, no matter how nice the dough.  

In addition, my hesitation over the years in embarking upon a Tarte Tatin had largely to do with an intimidation factor as it relates to caramel and flipping things out of their pans as a final preparation (see lack of examples on this blog of one or more of the following: flan, pineapple upside-down cake, hamburgers, etc.)  

When it came right down to it, the Tarte Tatin could not have been more forgiving or simple. It turns out, if you can peel an apple and roll out some pre-made dough, you can make this thing, easier than pie. Also, due to the fact that the crust is on top, my obsession with well cooked dough was well looked after. 
I had some fun at the newish, less manic farmers market in my corner of Brooklyn.  I'd long been stressing out about going to the mega-market on Saturday's at Grand Army Plaza and the prospect of dodging strollers, dogs, bicycles, and their owners. The alternative market in Windsor Terrace, held on a Sunday just an 8 minute walk from my apartment, has only 6 or so vendors, but so far I LOVE it. Everything I need is there, and I was transported back to my days working at Moutoux Orchards at age 14 in Virginia, where I could identify close to a dozen varieties of apples by their taste and/or shape.  For the Tarte Tatin, knowing it the apples would be slathered in caramel, I chose a combination of Macoun, Rome, and Cortland apples, but any tart, firm apples will do.
Tarte Tatin
Adapted from Joy the Baker 

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but still cold
6 to 7 tart, firm apples (I used a mix of Cortland, Macoun, and Rome )
1 stick (4 ounces) salted butter
1 cup sugar + 1/2 teaspoon
 Maldon salt or Fleur de sel
Preheat oven to 374 degrees F.  

Peel, core and quarter the apples and set aside. It does not matter much if the apples brown slightly while you move on to the next step as they will soon be consumed in caramel. Unfold puff pastry and leave to sit for a few minutes while you move on to the next step. 

Melt butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or otherwise heavy bottomed skillet on medium-low heat. Scatter sugar over butter and combine butter and sugar with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon till combined in a texture similar to wet sand. Make sure it is evenly spread over the bottom of the cast iron.

Working somewhat quickly, arrange the apple quarters in the pan, lengthwise in a circle along the outside of the pan and working inward, packing the apples as tightly together as possible. 

Increase heat to medium high and cook for 10 minutes, turning the pan occasionally to make sure everything is cooking evenly (this may just be me as my kitchen and stove are slanted slightly and so the butter/sugar mixture tended to accumulate slightly more on one side rather than the other. Let the sugar boil and caramelize, turning a darker color as you cook.  If the color of the caramel seems to be turning a dark brown too quickly turn the heat down somewhat.  

On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry, extending it about 1/2 to 1-inch on all sides. Using a 10-inch dinner plate or pie pan, place on top of the puff pastry and use to cut out a 10-inch circle of dough. Place the puff pastry in the refrigerator until the apples are finished cooking.

After 10 minutes of cooking the apples should be somewhat soft and the caramel nearly ready. If it is still a very light shade of beige, turn up the heat somewhat. By the time you put the apples in the oven the caramel should look the rich amber color of caramel  Cook for up to 5 minutes more to reach the desired color. Do not be tempted to stir anything around or move the apples!

After 15 or so minutes on the stovetop, remove the pan from heat. Carefully place the puff pastry over the hot apples, tucking into the edges of the puff pastry and covering the apples entirely. Cut 2 to 3 slits in the pastry and sprinkle with a half-teaspoon of granulated sugar. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes.Run a knife along the edges of the skillet to make sure that the pastry is not sticking to the pan. Place a large plate on top of the cast iron and, carefully but with confidence, (and the assistance of pot holders/tea towels to protect your hands), invert the plate and pan.  You should hear or feel a little drop as the tart falls onto the place.If any apples stuck to the cast iron, just remove them with a spoon and place them right back in the tart. You can also scrape any remaining apple-caramel and drizzle on top of the tarte.

Slice and serve warm with vanilla ice cream and a scattering of Maldon salt or Fleur de sel.

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