Spontaneous Tarte Tatin

Puff pastry, how do I love thee…? Your one thousand butterty layers can be put to one thousand sweet or savory uses. Frozen, you are a tart crust, pot pie topper, batch of hors d’oeuvres or Beef Wellington wrap waiting to happen. Your scraps can be made into everything from galettes to Alsatian onion tarts to parmesan cheese twists. Oh sweet puffy stuff…I love you so.

And it came in really handy tonight I can tell you, when my plan for double chocolate Napoleons fell through (don’t tell my wife). But a few apples, a little sugar, 12 ounces or so of puff pastry and whammo! It’s tart tatin for dessert.

If you’ve never heard of it, tart tatin is a fancy French version of upside-down cake. The French of course have a fancy version for just about everything we do. We do meatloaf they do paté. We do beef stew they do Boeuf Bouguignon. We do Three Men and a Baby, they do Trois Hommes et un Couffin. It never stops. Anyway, tartes tatins come in many flavors, apple, peach, pear, potato, onion, you name it. Today there were apples around.

The sweet iterations of tartes tatins have the same steps as upside down cakes: you make a little caramel, embed some fruit in it, put the base layer on and bake it. Only instead of cake batter as a base you use puff pastry (or pie dough). Most of the time, people want to make it in cast iron skillet for that rustic casual look. The trouble is that because cast iron holds heat so well there’s serious risk of buring your caramel…like I did this afternoon. And if you did The Pie and Pastry Bible fancier version of apple tart tatin, like I did this afternoon, you ruin a syrup made from apple essence that you can’t easily replace.

So mark me well French upside-down-cake-o-philes. Make your caramel in a light aluminum nonstick pan, so you can cut the heat quick when your caramel is done. Then, if you still want the rustic country look, you can transfer it to a cast iron skillet and carry on from there. Easy as, er…pie.

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