Monday, April 6, 2009

The Making of a Tart Tatin for Woodley

As I was planning my to do list for today I decided to try baking a fun dessert. I knew I would be baking bread all day and I figured I could get some other baking done at the same time. I asked Woodley to pick a dessert he'd like me to make. His answer, "A Tart Tatin!" 

I was introduced to the Tart Tatin through Woodley and his family a couple of years ago. It is a French apple tart somewhat like a pineapple upside down cake. If you are used to apples being featured in desserts alongside spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, you might feel something is lacking. However, the real beauty of the Tart Tatin is its simplicity and its focus on the blending of caramel and apples. If you love caramel apples, this is a dessert for you! 

I found a recipe on Epicurious but since it lacked a pastry recipe, I used one provided in the reviews by "Jenny from Crested Butte, CO" For simplicity's sake I have combined the directions for both below, using the method I used when I baked it today. The original recipe can be found at: "Tart of Les Demoiselles Tatin"

Tart Tatin
8 servings

4 tablespoons butter (plus extra, maybe 2 more tablespoons)
1 cup sugar
8 - 12 granny smith apples
1 rich pastry recipe {see below}
1 egg beaten with a little water or cream

{Here is the pastry recipe I used today. It is quite heavy on the butter - 1 whole cup. This one turned out just fine and was very thick and soft. If you have a favorite pie crust recipe though I think that would work just as well.}

Rich Pastry Recipe:
1 3/4 cup flour 
2 sticks butter (16 tablespoons), divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup water 
1/4 cup powdered sugar

First I made the pastry. 

Mix the flour with 4 tablespoons butter and 1/8th teaspoon salt. I like to whisk the flour and salt together and then add the butter in small chunks. 

I rub the butter/flour mixture between my fingers until the butter is all broken up and the mixture resembles sand or crumbs. (see below)

Next, lightly stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water just until the dough starts clumping together. Then turn it out and lightly press it into a flat circle. Wrap it up with plastic wrap or wax paper and pop it in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. 

While the dough is chilling, start getting the apples ready for the tart. Peel, core, quarter, and slice the apples into thin pieces. 

Every time I peel apples for a pie, tart, or cobbler, I always think of that scene from Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks is on the phone remembering things about his wife, "I'm starting to forget her. She could peel and apple - in one long, curly strip. The whole apple." And there is Meg Ryan, listening and peeling an apple in one long, curly strip. I love that scene. I always try to peel my apples in "one, long, curly strip." I think I've succeeded once or twice, but usually I'm in a hurry and each apple's peel ends up in several pieces. 

Yum! How I do love apples! After growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I've always felt that they were part of my heritage. 

I can't remember exactly how many apples I used, but I think it was between 8 and 10. They weren't super big granny smiths but were more medium sized. After I cut up the amount below, I ended up cutting up 3 more apples to finish filling the pie pan. 

Now we can prepare the caramel. The recipe said to use a heavy pie tin and to cook 4 tablespoons of the butter and 1/2 cup of the sugar together in the pie pan. I didn't have a heavy metal pie pan so I decided to cook up the caramel in a saucepan and then transfer it to my pie pan. 

The next time I make it I think I'll use my cast iron skillet which will be a more traditional way to make the tart because I can create the caramel sauce in the pan, add the apples, and then transfer it directly to the oven for baking. 

So, find a heavy metal pie pan, cast iron skillet (about the size of a pie pan), or a sauce pan and melt 4 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat. 

Cook until the mixture is thick, syrupy, and lightly browned (see below). 

Here is where I transferred my caramel sauce to my glass pie pan. If I had used my cast iron skillet or a metal pie tin, I would have left the sauce in the skillet/pan and added the apples directly to that. I think I could have let the caramel cook a little longer to develop more of that burnt sugar taste, but it turned out great this way too. 

Now would be a good time to start pre-heating the oven to 450 degrees F. 

Next, arrange the apple slices on top of the butter and sugar mixture. Dot each layer with butter and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar from the second 1/2 cup left over. 

I like to do them in circles so that they lay nicely in the finished tart. Pay special attention to the bottom layer since that is the one that will end up on top when the tart is flipped upside down after it is done cooking. 

Build the apple slices up in the center to come above the rim of the pan. 

Apples seriously reduce in size when they cook so I like to add as many of them as I can reasonably fit in the pan. Below is my tower of apple slices! I added more dots of butter and a  sprinkle of sugar between each layer. 

The tart is almost finished, we just need to finish putting together the pastry crust. 

From the pastry recipe, combine the remaining 12 tablespoons of butter (1.5 sticks) with 1/4 cup powdered sugar.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out until it is quite thin. Spread the butter/powdered sugar mixture in the center of the dough. 

Then, fold the dough over the butter/sugar mixture to form a square package. 

Now roll the dough out again until it is thin. Next, repeat the last two steps by folding the dough over into a square packet and rolling it out again. If it is too soft with the butter, stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes and it should be easier to roll out. This process forms layers of butter in the dough that will help make it flaky when it cooks. 

Below is a picture of the dough package after I started rolling it out. The rolling pin I used is actually a muddler that I bought for making mojitos last summer. :) It works great as a rolling pin though because it is small and lightweight which gives me a lot of control. I also have a big marble rolling pin, but for some pastries it is too heavy. 

When the dough has been folded up and rolled out twice (the final dough should be rolled to 1/8th inch thick and be big enough to cover the tart), fold it up into a compact package so it will be easy to move over on top of the apples. I like to do this by folding it in half then folding that half in half and repeating the process until it is the shape of a piece of pie (see below). Folded this way, it is easy to move and easy to unfold - just set the pointy end at the center of the tart and start unfolding. 

I trimmed off the excess dough about an inch beyond the edge of the pie pan and folded the overhang under to make a bit of a seal. 

Brush with a bit of egg beaten with a small amount of water. 

Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes. Be sure to put an extra pan below the tart to catch the drips. My tart dripped a ton in the oven! 

Reduce heat to 375 degrees F and continue cooking until the apples are soft and the crust cooked through. I ended up baking my tart about 50 minutes. It looked great when it came out of the oven!

Let the tart cool slightly and then carefully invert it onto a serving plate. The apples should have caramelized with the sugar-butter mixture making a delicate brown top for the tart.

I had to slide a knife up around the edge of the pie pan to get the tart out, but once the pastry was detached from the edge it came out easily. 

My apples didn't caramelize too much but it still tasted wonderful! We ate it with vanilla ice cream for dessert and it was even better for breakfast the next day. 

I don't think it's going to last too long! 


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