Friday, March 28, 2008

Tarte Tatin

Some silly soul showed me a book called Gourmet Shops of Paris (Flammarion) and I have been thinking about it since. My favourite gourmet shop in Paris is probably the most well known, Fauchon, which is on place de la Madeleine. My father and I would go there on a Saturday for their amazing pastries and often hilarious people watching. Every Parisian stereotype was there, the fussy parents with the immaculately dressed, chipie children; the 60-something women in very short skirts feeding little scraps to their poodles; the drageurs - pick-up artists - who were trying to catch a young lady's eye over a cafe creme; the young BCBG couples in denim jeans and tweed jackets; and the confused looking tourists. I would always order my favourite dessert, the same thing I would order at the end of a meal at our neighbourhood bistr0 - tarte tatin.
This is the simplest and, I think, most delicious French dessert. Far less popular in this country than French favourites chocolate mousse and creme caramel, tarte tatin is a caramelised apple tart.
The original tart was made by nestling apple halves in a deep flan dish, sprinkling with sugar and butter, then topping with a shortcrust pastry lid. Once ready to eat, the tart would be served by inverting the flan dish onto a plate so the pastry was underneath and the apples, now a rich, golden colour, would sit up on top, slightly mushy but still firm enough to defy gravity and hold the flan dishes' shape.
This recipe is easier as it uses ready-made puff pastry. It also ensures the caramelisation of the apples occurs by making the caramel beforehand. This is the hardest part of the process, as the caramel burns quickly. So be alert!
The tart is best eaten just above room temperature with cream or icecream.

1 sheet ready-made puff pastry
6 large green apples
10g unsalted butter, melted
50ml water
100g caster sugar
25g unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 190 degrees and defrost one sheet of puff pastry.
Peel, halve and core the apples and set aside.
Make the caramel by placing the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat. Monitor closely without stirring until the mixture is a light golden brown. Take off the heat immediately and stir in the unsalted butter (25g). Pour into an 18cm round baking tin.
Arrange the apple halves in the tin, cutting up a few halves to fill in any gaps. Brush the melted butter over the halves.
Bake for 30 minutes, then place the puff pastry sheet over the apples, trimming off extra pastry. Cook for another 3o minutes, until golden brown. Cool until just lukewarm.
Serve by running a knife around the inside of the tin, ensuring no pastry sticks to the side. Then place a plate over the tin and turn quickly and carefully upside down. Remove tin, you may have to tap it a few times, and voila... a gorgeous, tarte tatin.

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