November 20, 2010

Fruitful Baking: Delicious Tarte Tatin

I’ve never been much of a baker. It’s the exacting science of it that puts me off. Measuring precisely. Step by step sequences of events that can’t be altered. Cold equipment and room temperature eggs (or is it room temperature equipment and cold eggs?). You see what I mean. I haven’t started yet and already I’m sure I’m going to miss a beat. When it comes to the kitchen, I’m more jazz than classical – more improvisation, less following the score note by note. Give me syncopation over exact execution every time.

But I do love pie. And I do love Julia Child. So when we decided to make a dinner in honour of Julia Child’s birthday last year (inspired by a menu in Bon Appetit magazine), I thought we’d substitute the proposed dessert, Reine de Saba, for something I’d never tried before: the ultimate French dessert, tarte tatin. E voila – a new recipe entered my speed dial repertoire and a baker was born.

Since then I’ve made this tarte tatin many times, and every time it’s delighted me with just how easy baking can be. With fall apples filling the farmers’ market tables and in cold storage, it’s a perfect time to try this one yourself. C’est ci bon!

Julia’s Tarte Tatin
from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom
serves six

Here’s my version of Julia’s pie dough, which can be used for the tarte or for any sweet or savoury pie you wish to make. You will need about half of this recipe for the tarte. If you have a favourite pie dough recipe, by all means use it.  The great thing about dough is that it can be frozen so you can have some at the ready whenever you're in the mood for a sweet treat.  Also be sure to allow enough time for the dough to rest; while some recipes will call for a mere 30 minutes, I like to let the dough rest, as Julia suggests, for a couple of hours.

For the Tarte Tatin:

6-8 Jonagold apples, cored, peeled and halved (any good baking apples will work well here)
The juice and zest of 1 lemon
1½ cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heavy oveproof 9-inch skillet for cooking and baking
Optional: whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as accompaniment

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F, with the rack in the lower middle position.

2. Slice the halved apples into 4 lengthwise wedges each, and toss in a large bowl with the lemon juice and zest and ½ cup of the sugar. Drain the apples after macerating 20 minutes.

3. In the skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the remaining 1 cup sugar and cook until the syrup bubbles and turns golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat and arrange a layer of apple slices in a circular pattern on the caramel in the skillet, then arrange the remaining apples neatly on top.

Everything's better with butter!

4. Return the pan to moderately high heat and cook for about 25 minutes, covering the pan after 10 minutes. Every few minutes press down on the apples and baste them with the juices. When the juices are thick and syrupy, remove the pan from the heat.  Watch and smell at this step - because of the high amount of sugar, your syrup can go from thick and buttery to burnt in seconds.

5. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a circle, ⅛-inch thick and 1-inch larger than the top of the pan. Drape the dough over the apples, pressing the edge of the dough between the apples and the inside of the pan. Cut 4 small steam holes on the top of the dough. Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20 minutes.

6. Let the tarte rest for 10 minutes. Here’s the tricky part! Unmold the tart onto a serving dish (so the pastry is on the bottom). I haven’t quite mastered this to be honest. Rich bought me an Emile Henri tarte tatin baking dish that I’ve tried out once, with only slightly better success. This is a case where practice makes perfect, and I am very happy to keep practicing!  Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as desired.

A bit messy but no one will mind

Bon appétit!