There are a few variations on this very simple recipe, most of which have to do with how you prepare your caramel, and what size pieces of apple you employ. I’m a member of the make-your-caramel-first-and-don’t-use-gigantic-apple-pieces contingent. We have strong representation in Washington and a muscular lobbying effort.
I like to make the caramel before I bake because I like darker caramels. So, I begin by putting about two-thirds of a cup of sugar into a 9-inch cast iron skillet (you can use a ten, or an eight…Tartes Tatins are casual affairs, just adjust your sugar quantity a bit to compensate for the size difference). I then moisten it with a couple of tablespoons of water (the quantity isn’t important, you just want the sugar to have a “wet sand” look to it).
Turn the heat up to high and start swirling the pan as best you can (cast iron can be a bit heavy for “swirling”).
After three or four minutes the sugar will begin to brown…
…then turn light amber, and shortly dark amber. Notice how the foam on top of the caramel is deceiving. It gives the appearance of a light amber when in fact the caramel underneath (as you can see over on the left there) is really a dark amber.
When the caramel is the color you like, turn off the heat and add 3-4 tablespoons of butter to the pan. It’ll foam up some and maybe splatter, so, be careful.
When the splattering has died down, stir the caramel until all the butter has been incorporated. Be prompt with this step, otherwise the caramel will firm up in the pan to the point you won’t be able to work with it. Should that happen, just return the pan to the heat for 30 seconds or so to loosen the caramel up.
What’s the alternative to this? Simply, to spread your sugar out in the pan and scatter the butter pieces over the top — then add the apples and bake it all together in the oven until the sugar and butter turn bubbly. That works, but in my experience doesn’t make a very flavorful caramel. Some people use brown sugar to give the caramel a little more character…I still don’t care for the method, personally.
Let the caramel cool, then lay on your apple pieces on top of it. Some people use thin slices, others use anything up to half an entire apple. I like slices, but chunky ones, so I cut my apples into six pieces and use those. This is about four baseball-sized apples, roughly 2 1/2 pounds before slicing.
The advantage here is that you still get nice big pieces of apple in the finished tart, but the chunks aren’t so large that you have to pre-bake them before putting your pastry layer on (should you decide you want to use quarters or halves, you’ll need to pre-bake the apples in the pan with the caramel – or sugar and butter – for between 20 and 30 minutes).
While the pan cools, roll out your pastry. Here I have about a 14-ounce piece of homemade puff pastry. A single sheet of store bought works just fine too. Roll it out to about the size of your pan, then trim it roughly round with a pizza cutter (save the pieces for the puff pastry scrap ball you have going in the freezer…you’ve got one going, don’t you?).
Then simply lay the pastry on the pan like so:
And bake in a 400 oven for about thirty minutes, or until it looks like this:
When the tart is done, remove it to a rack and let it cool for at least fifteen minutes before turning it out. To do that, just place a plate or platter over the pan, then, holding the platter on with one hand, flip both the skillet and the platter over. The tart will flop right out.
Here’s it important to note that you can leave your tart fully baked and in the pan all day if you need to. Just keep about a 375 oven going around dessert time, and warm the tart back up for 15 minutes or so. Let rest, turn out, and presto — nice warm Tarte Tatin.
Traditionally this type of pastry is served with a dollop of crème fraîche — which is excellent. Ice cream is a great way to go too. Last night Mrs. Pastry served me a slice with a small scoop of her homemade pumpkin caramel ice cream (remember that batch of deep, dark caramel I made two weeks ago? There you go). I’ll be biking and extra lap around the park this evening to compensate.