Growing up in France, I have enjoyed so many wonderful apple tarts in little bistros or more fancy restaurants. Some had big chunks of apples, others were made with paper thin slices and all were out of this world. Tarte Tatin is an impressive and comforting dessert with a gorgeous glossy top and a delicate flaky bottom… It looks quite elaborate but it is not that complicated to make and more importantly, if you follow a few steps you will get a perfect tart every time. It reminds me of a quote I read from Molly O’Neill. She was so right when she said “cooking is like jazz and baking is like classical music.” Bu this dessert feels like jazz to me! It is essentially a caramelized upside-down apple tart with a flaky pastry crust (either homemade if you have time or store-bought puff pastry).
Who invented it
So who is this Tatin person after which this tart was named? The story goes that 2 unmarried French sisters (Stephanie and Caroline Tatin) in the 1880s came up with it as a result of a happy accident. One of the sisters who was in charge of the cooking for the hotel was overworked and while making a traditional apple pie accidentally left the apples in the butter and caramel cook a little too long and in an attempt to save the dish covered it with some puff pastry and baked it. The result was surprisingly good and became a specialty of the hotel’s restaurant. But it was only after the owner of the famous restaurant Maxim’s tasted the dish and totally fell in love with it that its popularity gained the whole country. So this goes to show that things may not always go as planned in the kitchen but sometimes, you end up with something new that is pretty cool. I have had a number of these unexpected surprises like using ingredients from an un-labelled jar!
Best apples to use for a tarte Tatin
You want apples that will hold their shape through the baking process. So, Honeycrisp, Braeburns, or Granny Smith are the best candidates. Gordon Ramsey suggests peeling and quartering the apples the day before and refrigerate them uncovered overnight to dry them. This extra step supposedly yields firmer apples that tend to stay more together. Personally, as long as you use crisp apples, they will stay firm and together. Plus that’s way too much work for me!
Using store-bought puff pastry is the quickest and easiest way to make Tarte Tatin. So if you are in a hurry, go for it. I have made it this way so many times and it always works beautifully. The only thing with puff pastry is that if you don’t eat it immediately, the juices from the apple will make the crust soggy. Fortunately, Tarte Tatin is always a hit, and rarely are we left with extra slices.
Another option is to make a short crust pastry that will remain firm well after the caramelized apples release their juice as the tart cools off. It is a little more work but well worth the time.
There are apparently two ways to caramelize apples. Some French chefs just use water and sugar at first, then add butter right before mixing the apples. Most chefs tend to mix butter with sugar and water. We will go with the latter one. When cooking the apples in the caramel, you will have to be patient and regularly turn the apples in the bubbly sugar liquid until it starts to get a little darker. You do want to see the caramel change color but don’t let it go dark as you risk burning it. At that stage, let the apples cool down to the touch before adding the crust.
If you opt for making a nice layered concentric pattern, the slices could end up not being entirely caramelized due to the overlapping. A simpler and better method consists in cutting apples in quarters or halves and placing them the flat side down in the pan and make sure to flip them in the caramel. Tarte Tatin is meant to be a comforting dessert so it doesn’t have to be a perfect design!
There are 2 methods out there. One places the dough on top of the apples before caramelizing them. The other adds the dough after the apple have caramelized. I have tried both and the only difference is that your tart will be more neatly tucked around and under the apples if you cover them first, but both produce an equally good results from a taste standpoint.
The trick to successfully release the tart
Success relies on timing and temperature. You must let the caramelized apples cool down before placing the crust on top. The crust must be refrigerated until you need it. After the tart is baked, you must let it cool off for 15-20 minutes before flipping it on a plate. Never flip the tart when it is hot because it will collapse and the apple pieces will stick to the bottom of the pan. No worry, because it will still taste awesome but you will have to do some cosmetic surgery reconstituting the apple pattern before serving!
Serve warm on its own, it is that good, and for those who love ice cream, top with a scoop of our favorite vegan vanilla ice cream
This tart can be made the day before. This allows the pectin to bind the apples together. Just reheat the tart in a heavy bottom pan for 15 mn at 300F.
Fail-proof Vegan Tarte Tatin
- Heavy bottom oven proof pan like a cast iron pan.
- 1 sheet of store bought puff pastry
- 4-5 apples (Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Braeburn or Golden Delicious)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup vegan butter like Earth Balance
- Peel, quarter and core the apples
- Pre-heat the oven to 375F (or 350F in convection oven)
- In a cast iron pan or oven proof pan, add the butter in chunks and sprinkle the sugar.
- Add the apple by placing a half in the middle like a button and the remaining slices flat side down in a concentric circle like flower petals making sure they are close together.
- Turn the heat on medium and cook for 3-5 minutes making sure to flip the slices once or twice so that they caramelize evenly.
- The apples will produce extra bubbling liquid you can remove with a spoon or a baster.
- The key is to start on medium heat and keep cooking the apple and sugar until the juice evaporate and get darker and thicker. You will smell the caramel when it is ready. This shouldn't take more than 10 minutes depending on your stove. Remove from heat.
- Measure the diameter of your pan. Roll out the thawed puff pastry and cut a circle a little larger than your pan.
- Lift the dough and place on top of the hot apples. Gently tuck the edges and push down onto the apples.
- Place in the oven and bake for 45-40 minutes until the top is brown and crispy.
- Let it cool down 3-5 minutes. Using a larger plate, flip the tart using oven mitts.
- Cut slices and serve warm as is or with your favorite vanilla ice cream.
You can even experiment a savory alternative, by using tomatoes or onions.