If you need a dessert for a holiday party but are tired of cakes, pies and even those once-revered little cupcakes, try a tarte tatin that will make you feel like a kid in a candy store tasting your first caramel apple.
Baked upside down, tarte tatin began in 1889 as a mistake, when hotelier Stéphanie Tatin put apples in a tart pan without lining it first with dough (absolutely something I would do).
To salvage it, she draped the pastry on top, baked it, and served it upside down, turning what could have easily been a disaster into a delicious dessert that would go down in history.
For the pastry
- 5-5/8 ounces (1-1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbs. cold water
For the tart
- 6 medium-sized Granny Smith apples
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)
- Make the dough. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until coarsely mixed into the flour. Add the egg mixture in three additions, pulsing after each. Continue pulsing until you have a soft, shaggy dough that holds together when pinched.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour. Between two pieces of waxed paper or parchment, roll the dough into a circle that’s about ⅛ inch thick and 11 inches wide. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then cover and refrigerate.
- Prepare the apples Tip: A heavy-duty ovenproof skillet works best for this recipe; avoid using cast iron, which tends to get too hot and burn the apples. Peel, core, and quarter 4 of the apples. Put the butter in a 10-inch heavy-duty ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When melted, use a pastry brush to coat the sides of the skillet with butter. Cover the butter with the sugar and cook just until the sugar is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Lay the apple wedges in the skillet with their rounded sides down or against the side of the skillet. Build concentric circles, packing the apples in a snug single layer—it’s fine if there are gaps. Peel, core, and quarter as many of the remaining apples as you need to fill in any gaps. If necessary, cut the pieces smaller to make it easier to wedge them in. The gap-filling pieces of apple will form a haphazard second layer, but they’ll shrink as they cook, and you’ll be able to nudge the pieces into the newly widening gaps.
- Put the pan over medium to medium-high heat and cook until beginning to bubble, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking until the apple juices are mostly boiled away and the caramel is a deep golden color, 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust the heat and reposition the skillet as needed for even cooking. The heat shouldn’t be too low (the apples will get mushy) or too high (you’ll burn the caramel). As the apples shrink, gently nudge the top layer of apples into the gaps.
- While the apples cook, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. When the apples are done, transfer the skillet to the baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes before proceeding so the caramel can settle down. Meanwhile, let the dough sit at room temperature until pliable. Bake the tarte tatin Place the dough on top of the fruit and tuck in the overhang. Bake until the pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the tart rest on the baking sheet until the bubbling caramel quiets down, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Gently run a table knife around the edges of the pan to loosen any apples stuck to the sides. Cover the skillet with a large serving platter—preferably one with a rim—and cover your hands with oven mitts. Carefully invert the tart onto the platter and remove the skillet. If some apples have stuck to the pan, use the table knife to lift them off and gently press them back onto the tart. Let the tart cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting it into wedges. Serve with crème fraîche on the side (if using). While the tart is best warm, it can also be served at room temperature.