Tarte Tatin and the Bayeux Tapestry
The photos show Don Harker’s cooking . Photo copyright Gail Harker
I have often brought “Tarte Tatin” to the studio for students where it seems to be fairly popular. I thought I would, therefore, supply you with a recipe. As the popular myth (?) would have it, Tarte Tatin was invented (some say as a fix to an accident) by the Demoiselles Tatin who ran the station hotel in Lasmotte-Beuvron, near Orleans (the Loire area), sometime in the 19th century. That may very well be true, but since I cannot find a recipe that is in the original hand of either of the sisters, all Tarte Tatin recipes must be the interpretation of someone else. In fact, such is the case with almost all so-called authentic recipes.
Tarte Tatin is one of those recipes where every cook book I have looked at will have a different interpretation. Saint Julia has an interpretation where thin slices of apples are layered upon each other, but no other French recipe I have seen suggests that. Mapie (pen name of the Countess de Tolouse-Lautrec – postwar food editor of E’lle magazine), who was niece by marriage of Henri would have the apples cut across, rather than from pole-to-pole, creating circular shapes. Most recipes will generally suggest cutting the apples into quarters. I found a recipe in a Gourmet Magazine book titled France. It is a combination travel/food book with a recipe called: Tarte Chaude aux Pommes. For the life of me, I can find no difference in this recipe to our tart in question, but without a single nod to the sisters. There are several suggestions for the type of apples to be used (almost irrelevant), as well as to the type of pastry to be used (also irrelevant). Any type of pie pastry may be used including store-bought puff pastry.
Gail and I first encountered Tarte Tatin while we were looking for a place to have lunch on one of our Whirlwind Tours to Normandy to view the Bayeux Tapestry. On a back street across from the Bayeux Cathedral we found a cute little place called Le Pommier, and unbeknownst to us, one the most highly reputed restaurants in Normandy. We were so taken with the wonderful food we had for lunch, we decided to list that little place as our venue for dinners, and on every tour thereafter, that’s where we take the tour for dinner. It was here that we first encountered the fabled tart. Since Normandy is the major apple producing province of France, Tarte Tatin quickly became the unofficial national desert of Normandy.
Here is the recipe that I use:
First, decide in which pan you are going to cook this masterpiece. It must happily travel from stove top to oven. My choice is large cast iron skillet, but it’s heavy and takes wrist strength to flip it. Try a heavy, large, non-stick skillet, or a circular pyrex baking dish. Whichever you choose, it should be minimum of 10” in diameter with 2” high sides.
Pastry (as I have said – use any pastry you like):
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ¼ cup of powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons of frozen unsalted butter
- 1 large egg – cold
Place flour/salt/sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse it a few times to mix. Dice frozen butter into about ½ inch dice, add to the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal. Turn into a large bowl. Whisk egg with about 1 tablespoon of cold water and sprinkle over the flour mixture. Using a fork, lightly toss the mixture together until clumps form. Gather the clumps together and press the mass into a ball. Flatten into a thick disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill while the rest of the work is being done.
Preheat oven to 375 deg. F.
- 8/10 large apples
- 1 quarter lb. unsalted butter
- 1 cup superfine granulated sugar
Pare, quarter, and remove cores in about 8 to 10 large apples. I prefer, in the following order: Pink Ladies, Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, or other (choose cooking apples). Toss quarters in a large bowl and sprinkle with a little lemon juice to keep from turning brown.
Melt butter in the skillet over medium heat, and sprinkle sugar evenly over the bottom. Remove from heat and begin arranging apple quarters on their cut edges. Press the ends of the quarters against the side of the skillet. Lift each quarter slightly so that the next quarter will hold up the preceding one. Fill the center with additional quarters. Arrange the quarters so they are all standing up. Return skillet to high heat cook until the sugar lightly caramelizes. Remove skillet from heat and with the tip of a paring knife or fork, turn all of the quarters to their un-caramelized side. Return to high heat and cook about 5 minutes longer or until the apples are caramelized. Remove from heat.
Roll out dough and trim to a ½” larger than the skillet. Gently lay the dough over the apples and carefully press the edges down alongside the sides of the skillet (finger burn risk). Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 25/30 minutes, or until pastry is browned. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for about 20/30 minutes.
Run paring knife around the edges to loosen pastry from skillet. Place a serving platter over the skillet, and while holding the skillet and platter firmly together, invert the skillet onto the platter. Gently lift the skillet from the platter. If any apples are stuck to the bottom of the skillet, carefully remove them and place them in their proper places.
Let the tart cool, but serve a bit warm with whipped cream or crème fraiche.