When I began cooking the recipes of Jacques Pépin almost six months ago I made a goal. The goal was to make lots of classical French dishes. The journey started with the most flavorful Coquilles St. Jacques, a beautiful dish of scallops with a savory mushroom base and luscious mornay sauce topping. Next I tried my hand at Creme Brulee. Along the way I made lots of gratins: a phenomenal Gratin Parmentier with beef, pasta gratins, and some remarkable egg gratins. I made quiche with bacon and learned that Gruyere was very favorite cheese in the history of cheese! I made the most dream-worthy chocolate mousse and I made crepes that reminded me of wonderful childhood memories.
There were many weeks I wanted to change my dish and take the easy route, but I stuck with it. Along the way we not only fell in love with Pepin's recipes, but also with French food. There were several techniques I learned along the way. Some I mastered. Some I did not. This Tarte Tatin, which will be one of my last French recipes for awhile, falls somewhere in between. It requires making a caramel, which has never gone well for me. This time around my caramel was successful. I was so elated.
The trouble with this tart for me was twofold. The directions say to let all the liquid/caramel evaporate while cooking the apples. I knew I didn't want to do that so I left some liquid/caramel in the pan before I laid on the dough. When I pulled the tart out of the oven it was rather dry. Next time, I will leave even more of the juices and I think it would fix the problem. The other issue was placing my chilled dough over a hot skillet. I had the prettiest dough, but it was not so pretty when the heat started to melt the dough. Next time I would simply remove the chilled dough from the wrappings before I got anywhere near the hot skillet. With these two changes I think this would be a total success! As it was, it was still delicious, especially when paired with vanilla ice cream.
Oh, and worth mentioning...I am a lazy cook. I know the Tarte Tatin is supposed to be flipped over and served with the pastry on the bottom,but I couldn't be bothered to do that! We just scooped it out with a spoon.
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons pear or apple cider
3 large Golden Delicious apples
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons confectioner's sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons milk
*Optional: Cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle on top
For The Caramel: Combine the sugar and cider in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes a light caramel. Remove from the heat and swirl the caramel in the skillet to cool and harden it. (If the caramel starts to darken too much as it continues to cook in the pan's residual heat; plunge the base of the skillet in cool water to stop the cooking.)
For The Filling: Peel the apples, cut them lengthwise in half, and core them. Cut them into slices. Arrange the apple slices cut side up in the caramel-lined pan so that what would have been the stem ends meet in the center.
Add the butter and cider and bring to a boil (the caramel will melt). Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and keep cooking, checking occasionally, until all the water has evaporated and the mixture in the pan has caramelized again, about 10 minutes longer, and the apples are tender.
For The Dough: Process the flour,butter, and confectioner's sugar in a food processor for about 10 seconds. Add the milk and process for another 10 seconds.
Transfer the mixture to a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough and roll it between the plastic into a 10-inch circle. Refrigerate the dough (still encased in plastic) to firm it slightly.
Preheat the oven to 400F, with a rack in the center.
After the apples have cooked for about 20 minutes, remove the dough from the refrigerator, peel of the top sheet of plastic wrap, and invert the dough onto the apples. (This step was a bit tricky for me because the heat of the apples in the pan caused my dough to stick to the plastic wrap- so I would remove the plastic wrap from both sides before going anywhere near the hot pan next time). Peel off the remaining plastic. (Drizzle dough with cinnamon/sugar mixture if desired) Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. The dough should be nicely browned on top and, when you tilt the pan, there should be a rich layer of caramel in the bottom. Let cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
At serving time, if the Tarte Tatin has cooled beyond lukewarm, rewarm over medium heat until the caramel dissolves (the apple mixture in the pan will move when you shake it). To unmold the tart, invert a serving plate on top of the dough and turn the tart out onto the plate.
Slice the tart into portions and serve with vanilla ice cream.
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