Saturday, March 21, 2015

My best tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is one of my favorite things to bake - I love the way in which simple ingredients (apples, butter, sugar) get transformed into a show-stopping desert via an ingenious technique. I bake tartes tatin all through the Fall and Winter and yes, have not felt like I perfect this least until now. This may not be impressive to professionals, it is probably not a big deal to many of you, but for me, this is my best tarte tatin.

To give credit where its due, I based this method on many wonderful sources of knowledge, including Smitten Kitchen, Food52, and The New York Times. I adjusted based on what made sense to me and what works in my kitchen. The big takeaways are:

  • Slice the apples crosswise (as if along the apple's equator) to create a flat, stable base
  • Do not skimp on the salt
  • A cast iron skillet is the best baking dish in this case as it helps prevent burning and still facilitates good browning
  • Do not cover the baked tarte until it is fully cooled so that the crust stays crisp (trust me, you want this)
Ingredients and method for pie crust:
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter, well-chilled and cut into small-ish pieces. I like to cut a stick of butter from the fridge on a plate and then stick the plate into the freezer while I pull together the rest of the ingredients
  • 1 and 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour. You can actually substitute up to a third of this with white whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream or yogurt (I saw no observable difference in the result)
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (about 1/4 of a juicy lemon)
  • 1/4 cup of ice water  
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chunks of butter and with a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour until the butter is well-distributed and is about the size of a chickpeas. Add the sour cream and the lemon juice (I often whisk them together first) and stir quickly with a fork. Drizzle in the ice water (without the ice) bit by bit, stirring with a fork until the dough starts to come together in larger clumps. Take the clumps out of the bowl and on to a lightly-floured surface and continue dribbling in the water until most of the dough comes together. Dump whatever is left in the bowl with the rest of it and quickly pat the dough together. Don't worry, it won't be smooth or even stick together perfectly. Pat the dough into a circle about 1-inch thick, wrap in plastic, and let it chill in the back for the fridge for 30 - 45 minutes. When you take it out, you'll notice the dough is much more together now. On the surface that's already dirty with flour (why bother cleaning it up in between), roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Dust lightly with flour as needed. Fold into thirds lengthwise and then thirds across and roll into a rectangle again. Fold again, wrap in plastic and put back in the fridge for another 30 - 45 minutes.

Ingredients and method for the apples and assembling the tarte
  • 4 large firm apples, such as Mutsu or Granny Smith
  • 1/2 cup of sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel the apples and cut them in half crosswise (along the "equator"). Cut each half into quarters and remove the bits of the core. Toss the apple chunks with the lemon juice, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of sugar. While you work on the apples, melt the butter and 1/4 cup of sugar in a 10-inch  cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar starts to turn light brown on the edges. Reduce the heat to low and start setting the apples in the caramel, putting them very snugly against each other. Cook over low heat for another 5 minutes. As the apples cook, then will start shrinking a bit and you should be able to wedge in a few more apple pieces. This will help make sure your tarte doesn't have any sad, apple-free spots.
While the apples cook, roll out the dough into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Drape the dough over the apples and tuck in the edges all around them (careful, the pan is hot and so is the apple caramel!). Slide the skillet into the oven and bake for 30 - 45 minutes until the crust is well-browned and the apples are soft. I like to slide a small knife or a cake tester into the apples just to make sure. 
Take the baked tarte out of oven and let cook for 10 minutes or so. Place a serving plate over the skillet, wrap a thick towel around it, and carefully invert. Behold the beauty of your work! Let the tarte cool and serve with ice cream or creme fraiche.

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