One of the most famous French tarts is the upside-down apple tart that according to legend was created by mistake by the Tatin sisters in the 1880s. Baking the cake upside-down helps to keep the crust crispy. The other success factor is the combination of apples with caramel. It sure is delicious and not that hard to make — the tricky part is turning it at the end.
A few weeks ago I made a very simple Tatin cheat using store-bought puff pastry but without turning the tart. Many recipes for Tarte Tatin use store-bought puff pastry, but I’m quite sure that the Tatin sisters used more simple pastry so instead I made pastry dough from scratch. Here’s my version. You will need an oven-proof flat pan with a diameter of 28 cm (11″).
For the pastry dough
200 grams (1 1/4 cup) pastry flour
100 grams (7 Tbsp) cold butter
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
For the apple-caramel filling
3 firm large apples
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
200 ml (5/6 cup) water
1 tsp cinnamon
40 grams (3 Tbsp) salted butter, or use unsalted butter and add a generous pinch of salt
Put the pastry flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, preferably with the pastry attachment but the metal blade should also do the trick. Add the cold butter in cubes.
Process until you obtain a mixture that looks like sand.
Add most of the beaten egg, saving just a tablespoon or so for brushing the pastry later.
Process until the dough starts to come together.
Shape the dough into a thick round disc with your hands.
Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour so. If you refrigerate it too long, it will be difficult to roll out the dough. Without refrigeration, the dough will fall apart when you try to lift it.
After half an hour, take the dough out of the refrigerator and out of the plastic wrap. Roll it out with a rolling pin on a floured work surface.
Use the pan (or the cover of the pan) to measure the size of the dough.
Create a circle of 28 cm in diameter (11″).
Wrap the circle in plastic foil, put it on a large plate, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200C/390F. Peel and core the apples and cut each apple into 16 wedges.
Combine the sugar and water for the caramel in the 28 cm (11″) pan and heat over high heat.
Continue to heat, without stirring, until a caramel starts to form that has a nice amber color. If the caramel doesn’t form evenly, it is okay to tilt and swirl the caramel in the pan, but do not stir.
Add the apples before the caramel turns dark brown, and toss the apples in the caramel to coat them on all sides. Lower the heat to medium.
Add the salted butter (or unsalted butter and a generous pinch of salt) and cinnamon and stir to incorporate.
Arrange the apple slices in a nice pattern. The apples should be slightly soft; cook a bit longer if needed. Do not cook too long, otherwise the apples may fall apart. Turn off the heat.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and try to arrange it in one piece on top of the apples. It is not a major issue if it tears a little.
Brush the dough with the remaining beaten egg.
Bake for 30-35 minutes at 200C/390F until the pastry is golden brown.
Take the tart out of the oven.
Put a large plate on top of the pan.
Turn over the pan and the plate. Be careful because hot caramel may leak. The tart should now fall onto the plate. If this doesn’t happen, you may have to loosen the edge of the pastry with a knife.
If all went well, you will have a beautiful tarte tatin! You can serve it immediately or allow to cool if you prefer.
Tarte tatin is great with sauternes, especially one with a lot of sémillon and some oak, as that goes best with the caramel.