Tarte Tatin’s Secret Ingredient

“When you flip anything, you really… you just have
to have the courage of your convictions.”

-Julia Child

Tarte Tatin is remarkably simple to make if you have a bit of chutzpah, and it’s an incredibly useful dish because:

  • you can freeze it.
  • you can make it ahead of time and reheat – indeed, this improves it.

If you’re short of time scroll to the bottom for the recipe – otherwise here is a bit of colourful history and background.

This is the story of how I was first introduced to this excellent pudding: A couple of years ago I went with my nephew (he of the pancakes) and my lighthouse-keeper friend to see Driving Miss Daisy. It’s a play about a bigoted old lady whose son furnishes her with a black driver. Well, in fact, really it’s about the nature of friendship and how it can grow and flourish even out of the rockiest crevices. Some critics have dismissed it as slight and sentimental.  But I found it powerful, moving, gentle and brilliantly observed. The fact that the two leads were Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones might have contributed towards making it so affecting. Right at the bottom of this post you will find a clip from the film with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy to give you a flavour.

Anyway, it was an excellent production and afterwards the three of us headed back to my nephew’s flat for a kitchen dinner. The main course under our belts, my nephew began busying himself in a kind of understated-impressive sort of way. We watched fascinated as he was obviously preparing to do something really rather tricky. There was unspoken tension. Whatever it was he was attempting would he succeed? Finally, with a flourish, he whipped something out of the oven, flipped it over onto a plate, and with a nonchalance belied only by a triumphant interrogative eyebrow, he presented us with a fragrant, caramelised creation of pastry, figs and vanilla. As a piece of theatre in itself it was splendid. You won’t be surprised to hear that he is also a dab hand at Crêpes Suzette.

Of course, I had to ask him about it, and he told me that he’d based what he did on a Waitrose recipe which used honey instead of sugar to make the caramel. Then I did some further investigations. There is a common fallacy that tarte Tatin was ‘invented’ by one of the soeurs Tatin, elderly hoteliers based near Orléans. Some say the pie was placed by one of them in the oven upside down by mistake, while Raymond Blanc maintains ‘they had never experienced romance or love’ and that therefore ‘they poured all their affection into this dish’. However, the truth of it is that making ‘upside down’ tarts was already a tradition in that region of France and the sisters’ contribution was limited to naming and popularising the dish.

And it has certainly proved popular. In the process of researching this blog I looked at the methods suggested by Rose Prince, Marco Pierre White (who taught Prince to make tarte Tatin), Stéphane Reynauld, Raymond Blanc (who uses Braeburn apples in his), Prue Leith and Caroline Waldegrave, Alastair Hendy, Heston Blumenthal, and Skye Gyngell, and well as the Divertimenti and Waitrose versions. I’ve incorporated bits of advice from all of them, but the Saucy Dressings secret ingredient is the membrillo (quince cheese) which makes it intriguingly memorable. I had meant to post this blog on National Apple Day – 21 October – a day when the UK celebrates the wealth and variety of its own, home bred and grown, apples. If I could have just met the deadline it would have been particularly appropriate as the tarte Tatin is another of those entente cordiale dishes where French method and British ingredients work together to form the sublime. The best fruit to make the tarte Tatin with is the Cox’s Orange Pippin, partly because of its flavour which is strong and acid enough to stand up to the in-your-face caramel and partly because it is strong and firm enough not to dissolve into mush in the baking process.

Cox's Orange Pippin
By common consent it works best with the Cox’s Orange Pippin

Alastair Hendy puts it best when he says

“…it’s the most glorious thing you can do with apples”

going on to describe the photographer he was working with, having scoffed a great slice of tarte floundering in cream, as saying

“it’s better than sex” 

According to Mr Hendy, this photographer knew what he was talking about.

What to drink with a Tarte Tatin

Victoria Moore, in How To Drink, suggests an Innis & Gun’s oak-aged beer which has a caramelised warmth which she says ‘sits well’ with this pud, and also an apple crumble.

Tarte Tatin made with fruit other than apple:

Nevertheless, the tarte Tatin method can be very successful with other fruit. For example:

  • as I experienced thanks to my nephew, with figs and vanilla
  • with plums and an orange butter sauce
  • with peaches and rosemary (Heston Blumenthal)
  • with apricots (fresh, or dried and soaked in rum) and pastry
  • brought to life with crushed amaretti
  • quince, pear and almond (the demon cook)

And there is quite a range of suggestions as to what to serve it with – double cream (whipped if you like), clotted cream, crème fraiche, vanilla ice cream, or salted caramel ice cream, or prune and armagnac ice cream. Finally, the tarte goes particularly well with a liqueur derived from an appropriate fruit – Calvados or English apple brandy, for example, with the apple version. The best time to eat tarte Tatin is in October when the apples are in season, and, as Raymond Blanc advises

“on a late Sunday afternoon, when the cheese has been finished and the last glass of good Burgundy has been drained”

Herbalist and broadcaster, Judith Hann, suggests adding aniseedy seeds of sweet cicely.

On the other hand there are very successful Tarte Tatins which are savoury and made with vegetables. For example:

Cheat’s quick tarte tatin

For four:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C
  2. Put two tbsps of salted caramel sauce (buy it – but you can make also – go here for information on both) into a frying pan with a removable handle.
  3. Place over two sliced (but don’t bother to peel) Golden Delicious apples which you’ve poached briefly in honey and lemon juice.
  4. Cover with a circle of ready-rolled puff pastry
  5. Bake for 45 minutes
  6. Serve with double cream

Finally! The complete recipe for a failure-proof and memorable Tarte Tatin:

You will need ideally an all-metal frying pan; or the type whose handle can be removed (these are incredibly useful); or a copper pan. Again, ideally whatever you use should have deepish, straight sides. It’s going to have a diameter of about 21-23 cm/8-9 “But if you don’t have any of those you can transfer from ovenproof pie dish on a hot baking sheet (go here to see why) to frying pan. An alternative to the caramel in the recipe below is to substitute the butter for 6 tbsp of calvados.

You can also add in a little finely chopped rosemary if you like.

For eight

  • 250g best quality butter puff pastry (Jus Rol do one now, or, if you can find Dorset Pastry puff pastry that is the Rolls Royce of pastries)
  • 5 Cox’s apples. Braeburn and Granny Smiths are also good. Whichever type of apples you use, they shouldn’t be too big, otherwise you may need to slice them
  • 100g – 7 tbsp runny honey (if you want to use sugar, use 100g)
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 4 cm/1½” cube membrillo (quinche cheese) – this is optional but you can get it from Waitrose
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • double cream, clotted cream, crème fraiche, vanilla ice cream, or salted caramel ice cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C
  2. Peel the apples, cut in half and core. You can keep them for a while in acidulated water (add some lemon juice) to stop them from going brown if you are a purist, but since they are going to go brown anyway I never bother with this. Life Is Too Short.
  3. Roll out the pastry. If you have time prick, cover with clingfilm and chill for about half an hour. It will make it easier to handle later and stop it from shrinking while cooking
  4. Cut around the diameter of the pan, allowing an extra 3 cm/1” all around – it slightly depends on the height of your pan (which should be quite deep). The idea is that you tuck the pastry down the side of the pan so that when you turn it over the walls of the tarte are high enough to contain the caramel sauce surrounding the fruit.
  5. In the frying pan melt the butter with the honey, cook for about five minutes until the mixture begins to caramelise. If you are using sugar, melt the butter, then add the sugar. Heat to get it to begin to caramelise. Whisk if it separates.
  6. Put the apples in the pan cut-side down, they ought to be crowded in, squeeze slightly where necessary to get them to fit.
  7. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and lemon zest. Add the membrillo. Bubble away for another five minutes or so. Don’t let the caramel burn.
  8. Take off the heat.
  9. Slide the pastry over the apples, and tuck it in as described above. Again you may have to do a bit of pinching and pushing, even minor carving, as the apples should be squeezed in against the pan. For heaven’s sake don’t worry if the pastry isn’t perfect.
  10. Put it in the top shelf of the oven and bake for about half an hour – the pastry should be crisp and golden. Check it after about 25 minutes.
  11. Leave it to cool either for five minutes or for an hour or so (this is advised as it gives the flavours time to meld) and then reheat on the hob for about five minutes to get it hot again.
  12. Now comes the theatre. Place an inverted, deepish plate (to contain any escaping caramel) which is slightly bigger than your pan over the top. With one hand bear down on the plate to keep it in place, and with the other hand, carefully protected by a cloth, grip the handle of the pan. With confidence and firmness, as well as chutzpah and flair (remember the raised eyebrow) flip the pan over onto the plate. Wait a moment to allow the tension to grow and the pastry to shrink away from the walls of the pan, and, voilà, lift up the pan and there before you will be a perfect, golden, tarte Tatin.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ3wXC5jqKE]

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