I have a long, long list of recipes I want to try. Some dishes have been on my to-make list for years, others are newcomers. But rummaging through this collection of old recipe cards and magazine pages and newspaper clippings, I realized that almost all of these recipes are classics. They are the pearl necklaces, the Hermes scarves, the Chanel suits of the recipe world.
Oh, sure… back in the day I put a homemade squid ink pasta on that list, but somewhere along the line, squid ink pasta and uramaki gave way to Boeuf Bouguignon and Pain au Chocolat. Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been away from France this long since my very first visit two decades ago. Maybe it’s my body’s natural tendency to crave butter. But either way, my to-make list looks an awful lot like the greatest hits of Julia Child.
In an effort to chip away at the list, and because a trip to the Haymarket yesterday resulted in more apples than my little kitchen can hold, I finally decided to tackle the iconic Tarte Tatin. My first bite of this simple, sweet apple tart was in a tiny cafe in Paris, thirteen years ago. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember that tart. And years later, when I went hunting for a recipe, I searched and searched, unable to believe that the handful of ingredients in a typical Tarte Tatin could have produced such flavor. It has taken me years to get around to the tart, but I have to admit that I was still skeptical yesterday as I unfolded that old recipe from the March 2001 Gourmet Magazine.
OK, here’s the part where you must do as I say, not as I do. You must follow the recipe. Read the recipe, and do what it says. Why is it never that simple? In this case, the recipe clearly states that one should use a 10-inch skillet. Well, I have an 8-inch skillet and never even gave the whole thing a second thought. Even as I struggled (and failed) to fit into the pan as many apples as the recipe calls for, I chalked it up to big apples.
But here’s the problem: more caramel + fewer apples + less surface area = a gooey mess. It was an amazingly tasty gooey mess, but a mess nonetheless. In fact, it was a bit of a dangerous mess. You see, flipping the contents of a hot cast iron skillet onto a platter is no easy task in the best of circumstances. My fearless (and strong) husband was up to the task of flipping. But as he turned the 25-pound skillet upside down, a mess of hot caramel leaked out all over the counter (thankfully he is not only strong, but has quick reflexes and the piping hot caramel covered only the counter top and not his entire arm).
But the caramel debacle aside, this tart is spectacular. You might serve a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream along side, but it really needs nothing. Like so many classics, it is pure and simple. Tarte Tatin is just exactly what it is – apples and flaky pastry. Nothing more, nothing less. We may never know exactly how the Tatin sisters made their tart, but if it was anything like this modern version, I can understand why the recipe has lingered for so many years.
Tell me, do you have a list of recipes just waiting for a lazy Sunday? What does your list look like? Does it involve as much butter as my list?
Adapted From Gourmet Magazine
1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
7 Gala apples peeled, quartered and cored
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Roll pastry sheet into a 101/2-inch square on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Brush off excess flour and cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer round to a baking sheet and chill.
Melt the butter in a 10-inch oven safe skillet. Remove from the heat and stir the sugar into the butter. Spread the mixture evenly in the bottom of the skillet. Arrange as many apples as will fit on sugar, packing them tightly in concentric circles.
Cook apples over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and very carefully lay pastry round over apples. Bake tart until the pastry is browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the skillet to a rack and cool about 30 minutes (if you leave the tart much longer than 30 minutes, set the pan over low heat to re-warm the caramel and loosen the tart before removing from the pan).
Just before serving, invert a platter with lip over skillet and, using potholders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto platter. Replace any apples that stick to skillet. Serve immediately.