Here's what makes a tarte Tatin so fabulous: even if your crust isn't perfect, even if it crumbles a bit when you flip it (as my buttery crust has done this time), and even if the tarte is not perfectly centered on your serving platter, it will still taste like something that came directly from heaven.
Tender apples in a deeply caramelized sauce will cover a multitude of other culinary imperfections. Tell your guests that it's meant to be "rustic" as you pass out the forks and carry on with the devouring.
Plain old Granny Smith apples are perfect for making a tarte Tatin. They hold up well in the rather rigorous caramelization and baking process, and their tartness translates into very pure apple flavor when pitted against the rich caramel.
This said, you should feel free to experiment with other apple varieties or a mix of varieties. Anything that holds up well for baking will work well. Cutting the apples in quarters also helps them to hold their shape without turning into apple sauce.
Don't be intimidated by the flip. In many ways, that's the least stressful part of making a tarte Tatin! Be sure to run a knife around the edge of the crust and then get a firm grip on the plate-and-skillet sandwich before flipping. The tarte is still warm at this point, so it's easy to nudge any apples back into place that fall out of line or stick to the pan.
And yes, a tarte Tatin will taste incredible no matter what happens during that flip. It's a sure thing. Have some ice cream or tangy crème fraîche on hand for spooning over the top, and this is a total win.
How to Make a Classic Tarte Tatin
Serves 8 to 12
What You Need
Granny Smith apples, or other hard, tart apple
9-inch pie crust dough
(1 stick) unsalted butter
Ice cream or crème fraîche, optional for serving
10-inch ovensafe skillet, cast iron or stainless steel preferred
Heat the oven to 375°F.
Peel and core the apples. Peel the apples, slice them into quarters, and remove the core. Roll out the pie crust to a little larger than 10 inches on a piece of wax paper and keep chilled in the refrigerator while you cook the apples.
Start the caramel sauce. Melt the better in the skillet over medium to medium-high heat, then stir in the sugar. It will be grainy and clumpy at first, then start to dissolve into a syrupy liquid.
Add the apples to the sauce. When the sugar and butter are bubbling, add the apples and sprinkle with salt. No need to be fancy with how you arrange the apples now.
Cook the apples until caramelized. Cook the apples, stirring every few minutes, until the sauce darkens to a deep amber caramel color. This should take 12 to 15 minutes. Be sure to turn the apples as you stir them so they are coated with the caramel sauce. A good indication of when the caramel sauce is done is if a drip holds its shape on a cool plate.
Top with the pie crust. Remove the pan of apples from the heat. With a fork and a spatula, turn the apples so their rounded surfaces are agains the bottom of the pan and arrange them in concentric circles. Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and drape it over the hot apples. Be careful not to touch the hot caramel sauce! Tuck the edges of the pie crust into the pan and prick with a fork.
Bake the tarte Tatin. Bake the tarte Tatin for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
Cool the tarte Tatin briefly. Set the tarte on a cooling rack and cool for 10-20 minutes.
Invert the tarte Tatin. Run a knife around the edge of the pie crust to separate it from the pan. Shake the skillet a few times to loosen the apples in the caramel sauce. Place the pie plate over the top of the skillet. Using oven mitts, grip the plate and the skillet and swiftly turn them both over so the pie plate is on the bottom and the skillet is on top.
Remove the skillet and make presentable. Gently lift the skillet away and re-arrange any stubborn apples that have gotten jostled out of place. Scrape any remaining caramel sauce from the pan and drizzle over the tarte.
Serve warm with ice cream or crème fraîche. Serve the tarte Tatin while it's still warm, topped with ice cream or a dollop of crème fraîche. Leftover tarte can be kept refrigerated for several days (and make an excellent breakfast).
Tarte Tatins with Other Fruits: Fruits of a similar hardness (quince, asian pear) can be cooked like apples. Softer fruits (apricots, pears, peaches) should be added to the skillet at the end of cooking the sauce, once the sauce has cooked to a dark amber color.
Salted Caramel Tarte Tatin: Add an extra half teaspoon of salt to the caramel as it cooks, then sprinkle the top of the finished tarte with crunchy sea salt.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)