How to Make Tarte Tatin

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.

17 thoughts on “How to Make Tarte Tatin”

  1. Made this for the first time today for a few friends. Used Braeburns – they held up well and had good flavor. Wienied out on the caramel – got a nice amber color but should have manned up and gone a few seconds longer. Used store bought puff pastry. There was a fair amount of watery liquid when finished baking; must have been from the apples. We drained most out before flipping, even then it was a drippy affair. Reduced the drained liquid down and got a really nice syrup to drizzle over the whipped cream topped tartin slices. Everyone had seconds; alas, nothing left for tomorrow. One question: could a person use two sheets of pastry dough to get more pastry in the dish? Would you just lay one on top of the other then cut to fit?

    1. You could do that, certainly, though it might take a little longer to bake. And yes, some apples release more liquid than others. But your solution was excellent. well done! – Joe

  2. Hello Joe,
    I have a question concerning the caramel preparation in general.
    I’d love to make tarte tatin, but would never succeed in making homemade puff pastry, so I found a simpler upside-down cake recipe, of the make-your-caramel-first-etc. bunch, only you pour it into the cake pan, and arrange the fruit on top.
    You start the caramel by heating one cup of sugar with 2 tablespoons of water, until it turns a golden caramel color, then, off the heat, whisk in 6 tablespoons of butter.
    But I never got past this stage, because when adding the butter, cut into pieces, halfway through it separates. I tried it again, a few more times, but can’t get the butter incorporated.
    Could you please offer some piece of advice? Do you know what could be causing this?
    Thank you for another great tutorial!

    1. Hi Mic!

      The problem is that the butter is going in cold. That’s causing the caramel to harden on contact. It’s not fatal to the project. You can just apply more heat (medium heat this time) and slowly melt the whole works together. But next time try adding soft butter and you’ll probably have less of a problem.

      Let me know if you keep having trouble!

      – Joe

      1. Hello Joe,
        Thank you so much for replying. So very kind!

        I tried it again, and let the butter sit for a while before I started making the caramel.
        Again, when the caramel turned golden brown, I took it off the heat, and added the butter, which in this weather was very soft at this point.
        But it still separated, somewhere along the way, even before all the butter has been added.
        So there’s a clumpy mass with pools of liquid floating above. Not a sight for sore eyes…
        The cake mission all forgotten by now, I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong with this not-too-complicated caramel making task.
        Is there any way to get it done?

        I really appreciate your reading this and taking the time and trouble to respond.
        Thank you, Joe!

        1. Hey Mic!

          My suggestion is to try it one last time, but this time have a whisk handy. Sometimes the melted butter can take come time to incorporate into the caramel. Keep a little heat under it to melt any clumps of solidified sugar and whisk, whisk, whisk. We’ll get this managed, don’t worry!

  3. Hi Joe,

    How would the Tarte Tatin taste with shortcrust pastry? I have some apples lying at home, waiting to be baked, but no puff pastry. We don’t get frozen puff pastry in India, and I don’t have time to make it the puff today, so would the Tarte taste well with short crust?


    1. Use it! More than a few people use short crust for tarte tatin, both in the States and on the Continent. It can be crumbly of course, but it should taste just fine.

      Thanks for the email!

      – Joe

  4. Hi Joe. My mom and I each made the Tarte on separate occasions. It is so good but based on mom’s experience with it and her original recipe which uses no butter and pate brisee, she told me to skip the butter. I love anything that is butter LOL but she is right that it is not necessary. My mom lives and breathes Tarte Tatin. We were raised eating it quite often. I made your recipe last nite and it was so good. However, next time give hers a try. Skip the butter and use her pate brisee recipe which is below. I just have the ingredients though but I am sure you will know how to proceed. Not sure how much to use for your 9 inch pan but I know you will figure it out. LOL
    Oops it is in French sent to me by her as a text. I am pasting it below.

    400gr de farine.11 tbs beurre,2 oeufs,125 gr (4oz ) de sucre 1 tbsp vanille. Lemon zest ( facultatif)

    1. Hello Regine!

      Thank your for the recipe. I have never made tarte tatin this way but am looking forward to trying it. Thank you mother for me also!


      – Joe

  5. One more thing. She says best apples to use are the red delicious. She cuts each into 8 slices.

  6. Hi joe. Isn’t it better if we coat the caramel on top of the apples and then pastry on top. It will look more nice

    1. It’s up to you, Mazzie! This is the method I prefer, but I won’t call you names if you do it differently!


      – Joe

  7. Sorry about this 1 more thing. What is the best way to present this recipe to a teacher. I don’t like it on a white plate

    1. Hey Mazzie!

      A lot of people like it on cast iron, where it has a nice rustic look. On the other hand a pewter cake plate might look good too. Good luck!

      – Joe

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