Tarte tatin is one of the simplest, yet most elegant, tarts that you can make. It has just four elements – or, at least, it has just four the way that I make it: sugar, butter, apples and puff pastry. It is rich, buttery and surprisingly easy to make for a dessert that is most often seen on restaurant menus.
The tart consists of a layer of caramelized apples sitting on a puff pastry crust. Any kind of pie apple will work well for this tart, and not only does it use up fewer apples than a pie, but it takes a fraction of the time. It is made in a frying pan (usually a cast iron, although any oven-safe pan will work) and the apples are cooked in caramel before a puff pastry sheet is pressed down on top of them. The tart is baked, crust-side up, in the oven until the puff pastry is browned and crispy, then it is turned out of the pan to serve with the apple side up – usually with a side of ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.
I think that the trick to getting a really good result from this tart is to make the caramel quite dark. Caramel is a great complement to sweet-tart apples and the deeper in color your caramel mixture is, the more flavor it will have. I cook the sugar alone in the skillet until it is a deep amber color – not burnt, of course – before adding in the butter. Don’t try to stir the sugar while it is melting, but feel free to slide the pan around on the burner to get every area exposed to high heat as it begins to melt. I also find it easier to choose slightly smaller apples for this because they fit into the pan better, while bigger apples sometimes must be cut down into chunks, small and medium sized apples can be used after simply being halved – making for easier prep and a more rustic (and prettier) finished tart.
1 cup sugar
2 ounces butter (1/2 stick), softened and cut into 2-3 chunks
6 medium apples
10″ square of puff pastry
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Peel your apples and cut them in half, removing cores.
Put sugar into a 9 inch, oven safe skillet. Cook over medium heat until sugar is a deep brown. Stir in butter with a spatula, then turn off the heat and let caramel rest for 5 minutes.
While caramel is resting, roll out your puff pastry a few times on a very lightly floured surface to make sure it is large enough to cover the pan and to smooth out any wrinkles. Cut a 1-2 inch vent in the center of the pastry.
Arrange apples in the caramel so that there are no open spaces between them (either the cut side or the round side of the apples can face up). Place puff pastry over apples and tuck the edges lightly around the apples. Don’t worry if the pastry is square and the pan is round, just tuck the corners in around the apples.
Bake until golden brown and the apples are soft when poked with sharp knife, about 25-30 minutes. Let the skillet sit for about a minute.
Place a large serving plate on top of the skillet and (carefully) turn tart out onto the platter. Serve while hot, with ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.