Culture: Art, Books & Music

Tarte Tatin: A famous French dessert is good for you, too

A Tarte Tatin. Photo: G. West

A Tarte Tatin. Photo: G. West

By T.L. Grace West

     What is your favorite birthday dessert?  Mine has been a French chocolate flour-less cake for years. What to do this year due to a recent acid reflux diagnosis resulting in a taboo on chocolate?

     Many of you know Henry Schliff, my husband, from his bakery-café, The Orange Blossom, in Buxton. What you may not know is that Henry went to a French cooking school in Boston in the 1970s.

With an eye for interesting recipes, accompanied with unique stories, he saw Tarte Tatin in a cooking magazine 25 years ago, and added it to his Chapel Hill restaurant’s dessert menu.

     Looking over a list of GERT (acid reflux) foods that are recommended, I was delighted to see apples. And so, this famous French upside-down apple tart has become a new birthday tradition in our family.

     I can only begin to imagine the delight of Stephine Tatin when she first served her mistake (upside down) apple tart to her guests at L’Hotel Tatin, which she and her sister owned in a small French village in the late 1800s.  

The French called this new dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin (the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin) and as it became more popular the recipe was sought after.

How Maxim’s, a famous Paris restaurant, obtained the recipe in the 1930s adds spice to its history.   Apparently, a cook/spy from Maxim’s, disguised as a gardener, gained employment at L’Hotel Tatin just long enough to get his hands on this secret recipe.

To this day, Tarte Tatin is on Maxim’s menu and can be sampled in restaurants worldwide.  Although the numerous steps might seem daunting, the end result is worth the time. Bon appetit!

Tarte Tatin
5 large pink lady apples (5-6 cups sliced)
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pastry for one 10-inch pie crust (see below)

Peel the apples. Cut the apples through the center, top to bottom, into quarters. Using a paring knife cut out the stems and cores. Cut each quarter into three slices. Place the apple slices into a bowl and toss them with the lemon juice. Set the apples aside.
Using a nine-inch, oven-proof skillet (handle can withstand high heat), melt the butter over low heat. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over melted butter. Arrange the apples in the pan in a circle working your way from the outside edge inward.
Continue the process making layers until all the apples are used. Place the skillet over medium-low heat. As the apples cook they will give up a lot of liquid.
Continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by about three quarters (20 to 25 min.).
Remove the pan from the heat.
Preheat oven to 375.
Roll the pie pastry into a 10-inch circle and place it over the apples. Cut away any of the dough that overlaps the edges of the apples. Cut four vents about 3½ inches long from the center outward in each quarter of the dough.
Place the skillet into the oven. When the crust is a golden brown (about 20 to 25 min.), remove the skillet from the oven and place it over medium-low heat. As the remaining liquid cooks, it will reduce and the sugar will start to caramelize.
As the liquid reduces, shake the pan back and forth occasionally to prevent any apples from sticking to the bottom. Using a small spoon, remove some of the boiling liquid from under the edge of the crust and observe its color from time to time.
When the color turns medium-dark brown and the aroma of the sugar becomes fragrant, remove the pan from the heat. Place a large serving dish over the top of the pan.
Immediately invert the pan so that the tart releases crust-side down onto the dish.
Serve the tarte warm or at room temperature with vanilla yogurt, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Pie Pastry

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. brown sugar
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 to 3 Tbs. sour cream

Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
Using your fingers rub the butter into the flour until it resembles tiny peas. Gradually work in the sour cream until the dough gathers into large, moist clumps. Gather the clumps of dough together and place them on a clean work surface.
With the heel of your hand, smear the dough onto the work surface to further blend ingredients. Gather the dough into a ball and then mold it into a disk.
Lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough and place it into a plastic bag. Refrigerate.
Let the dough rest for 15 minutes or longer.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface (makes one 10-inch crust).

 

2.13 grace close up

Grace West

 

Henry Schliff

Henry Schliff