Bonne année chers lecteurs! Apron cat is back again, and is starting the new year out right with a failed, but highly tasty, rendition of the latest in the apron cake series: Tarte Tatin.
One of the left-most desserts on the apron, this was something I wasn’t familiar with, but looked like an apple tart to me. No problem! Er, excusez-moi: pas de problème!
A tarte tatin, I found out from some Wikipedia and New York Times research taught me that a tarte tatin (this is going to be a super annoying blog post because Word Press keeps auto-correcting this to “taste satin”) is sort of the apple tart equivalent of a pineapple upside-down cake. The basic recipe from the various sites I looked at seems to start with caramelizing apples in a cast iron skillet, throwing either pie crust, pastry dough, or puff pastry on top, baking the whole thing in the oven, and then dramatically flipping it over onto a plate so that the apples are on top, magically held together in a big clump.
I found a lot of recipes for this, but ended up going with this one because I preferred a pie crust to a puff pastry. I’ve used recipes from the Food Network website before, but this is the first time I’ve used it for a pastry or dessert. I have learned my lesson and will stick to my tried and true pastry sites from now on.
I have a few issues with this recipe. The instructions were pretty imprecise. What exactly do you mean by a baking dish? It sound to me like a pyrex dish, but you can’t put that “over a medium heat.” (You’ll notice, if you happen to visit the recipe, that the baking dish text is a hyperlink. If you click the link, it takes you to a general “food encyclopedia,” helpfully queued up to the letter C, and there is no entry for “baking dish.”) The other recipes I’d seen called for a skillet, so I chose to use that. (Also, who has a 10″ pyrex?) Another imprecise moment – I would expect that the thickness/shape of the apple slices would be slightly important. That affects how long they’ll cook, as well as how the whole deal holds together. This recipe said to halve the apples, remove the cores, and then cut “them” into 4 big pieces. Is “them” each apple? Each half of an apple? I went with the latter and chopped each half into fourths. Also, the entire beginning claims to be done in a mixer (making the pie crust), but the instructions sound like it’s trying to talk about a food processor. “Pulse” the butter for 2 seconds. How do you pulse something in a mixer?
The recipe was very concerned about the speed at which I made the dough and cautioned against over mixing. So I didn’t over mix, and I came up with this:
I formed it into a ball and put it in the fridge for an hour. I then spent that hour chopping apples. (Note the recipe’s prep time of 30 minutes.)
When I took the dough out, I was pretty furious to notice that there were chunks of unmixed butter throughout. Okay, furious is a lie. I was more annoyed and just kind of resigned at that point.
Anyway, in the meantime, I had to caramelize sugar, one of my most stressful kitchen tasks. I cannot explain why, but I am so afraid of setting off smoke alarms. Maybe this is because I live in an apartment building and I’m concerned about upsetting the neighbors. Maybe because I think that the smoke alarm automatically calls the fire department (I don’t know if this is true). Maybe it’s because it’s a stressful noise. Maybe because one apartment building I lived in had a fire in the apartment directly below mine, and I wasn’t home when it happened, and the firefighters wouldn’t let me go in and check on my cat (she was fine – it was a minor fire). Maybe it all goes back to the recurring nightmares I would have when I was 5-9, after every visit by the firefighters to my elementary school.
There are a lot of possibilities, but the end result is that cooking sugar, butter, and water in a skillet on a stovetop is pretty stressful for me. But it didn’t burn, and because this recipe gave me no guidance about when it was done, I used an old trick from Annie’s Eats and dripped drops of the sugar/butter/water mixture onto a white plate to check its color periodically. When it turned amber (in my assessment) I pulled it off the heat and tossed in the apples. I might not have waited long enough, because I do tend to be conservative when it comes to burning butter or sugar.
Shockingly, I don’t own a “heat diffuser,” (seriously, Food Network?) so I simmered the apples in the “caramel” for 15 minutes over medium-low heat. It seemed to be working, because the caramel did bubble up through the apples as the recipe indicated. And it smelled pretty awesome.
The next mystery to me was how to follow the instructions about the pastry. I was able to roll it out and place it over the apples as instructed, but it was really not clear to me how to fold it “in at the edges.” Did this mean to fold it in towards the center of the pan? Surely it couldn’t mean to fold it over the edges of the skillet, right? The end goal here was to turn the entire deal upsidedown, so I did my best to tuck the pastry up in between the hot apples and the edges of the hot skillet.
The whole skillet went into the oven for 20 stressful minutes (zOMG sugar water in the oven watch the smoke detector OMG) and then cooled on the counter for the prescribed 15 minutes. We might have been running a little bit late to get this to its destined dinner engagement, so I didn’t let it cool any longer than 15 minutes.
And then, the moment of truth. When it came time to flip this thing, I went at it with the same gusto I used the first time I tried to dive off the starting blocks into a pool, or the first time I clipped into bike pedals. If you’re going to go for it, go for it:
The result? Sugar water everywhere. Grey apples. It didn’t even remotely hold together. The beautiful amber color appeared only on the Food Network website. After cleaning the kitchen counter, cabinets, floors, and cutting board, I scooped the apples into the pie plate and settled for an open top apple pie. And you know what? It actually tasted pretty effing amazing.
That being said, this one is getting a retry. The NYT has what it describes as a “fool-proof” recipe, and my mom has a Julia Child recipe, so between the two of them I have to give this another go.
In the meantime, the Food Network can stick to entertaining me with Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen and leave the pastry recipes to sources I trust.
(For the record, if you need good pastry recipes, I highly recommend Annie’s Eats. Epicurious is usually also reliable. Julia Child knows what’s up.)