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Tarte Tatin that anyone can make

(article, Kim Carlson)

As legend has it, the tarte Tatin was invented in central France more than a hundred years ago, when one day a cook at the Hotel Tatin baked an apple tart in a skillet and then inverted it onto a serving plate. 

Of course, there's more to the story than that, but when you make a tarte Tatin, that's what you can expect: an upside-down apple tart, the apples bathed in a gooey, sweet-scented caramel, the crust a flaky and browned plate of buttery crispness.


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In many tarte Tatin recipes — including Julia Child's — the instructions recommend you precook the apples on the stovetop, as was originally done, before adding the pastry crust on top. Then you bake the tart another 20 or 30 minutes to brown the crust. 

Not everyone agrees the effort is worth it.

And there is a simpler way. In her book The Grand Central Baking Book (co-written with Ellen Jackson), Piper Davis — the cuisine manager of Grand Central Baking Company in Portland and Seattle — includes a short essay about baking her first tarte Tatin_ years ago on her family's farm. 

Looking for a streamlined method to make the dessert, she whipped up an uncomplicated cinnamon-roll-style caramel in a skillet, added plenty of crisp cut-up apples, and topped it all with a rough puff pastry (a recipe for which is in the Grand Central book; another version is available from Martha Holmberg in her book, Puff). 

Then Davis baked it for a full hour, like a regular pie, until the apples were baked through and the pastry a dark golden brown. As Davis family legend has it, that first simplified version was stunning.

When we ate a recent version of the tart, we had to agree; it was ethereal, a true taste of autumn. 

But don't take our word for it. Give it a try yourself, with Davis' coaching:

|[%image one width=300 caption="Start with firm apples that will hold their shape when you bake them; here, Davis used Galas, but Honeycrisp or SweeTango would also be good choices. Estimate the number you'll need by filling half the pan, and then add one or two more. Set them aside while you make the caramel."]|[%image two width=300 caption="Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a cast-iron or enameled skillet over medium heat."]|
|[%image three width=300 caption="Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar."]|[%image four width=300 caption="When the sugars melt and begin to bubble together, remove the pan from the heat, and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract."]|
|[%image five width=300 caption="Now, peel and halve your apples; quarter any that are especially large."]|[%image six width=300 caption="Coring them takes a little practice."]|
|[%image eight width=300 caption="Place the apples, flat side up, into the pan atop the caramelized sugar. You'll want to press the apples in close together, and fill in any gaps with more chunks of apple."]|[%image nine width=300 caption="Finally, slice enough apples to completely shingle slices over the halves."]|
|[%image ten width=300 caption="Roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch thickness. Now, cut the dough in a round to fit over the apples (the pan lid works well for this). Here, Davis used Rough Puff Pastry, but she says you can also use an all-butter puff pastry (like the one Grand Central sells in their freezer case) or a sturdy pie dough."]|[%image eleven width=300 caption="Lay the crust over the pan, and fit it snugly around the apples, tucking the dough inside the pan."]|
|[%image twelve width=300 caption="Don't bother scoring the crust. Bake the tart for 20 minutes in a preheated 375-degree oven, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake until nicely browned, another 30 or 40 minutes."]|[%image thirteen width=300 caption="Your goal with this tart is a dark brown crust, Davis advises. There's nothing worse than soggy pastry, she says."|
|[%image fourteen width=300 caption="Remove the pan from the oven, and within 5 or 10 minutes, place a platter over the top and carefully flip the pan to invert the whole thing. Again, take care when doing this, so as to avoid a burn from the hot caramel."]|[%image sixteen width=300 caption="Spoon any caramel remaining in the pan over the tart."|

[%image reference-image width=600 float=left caption="Serve your tarte Tatin while it's still warm. Davis recommends vanilla ice cream alongside; we concur."]

p(bio). Kim Carlson is the co-founder of Culinate.

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