With the glut of apples at our house, it's no wonder that there's been a veritable parade of apple-based desserts around here over the last week. Though I love classic covered apple pies, crumbles, baked apples, and pretty much every type of apple dessert, my favourite is the open-faced tart. A simple "rustic" tart allows the apple flavour to come through clearly. Once you have this basic form down, you can dress it up as much as you like. How complicated you want to make it is entirely your decision.
The easiest variation is a galette: a pastry disk topped with apples, the edges of the pastry either left flat or folded partway over the apples to create a free-form crust. The pastry is usually a flaky pastry, or pâte brisée. You don't need a pie plate or tart mold for this, making it easy to do in any kitchen, no matter how unequipped.
I love making galettes, but I have way too many tart molds here at home, so I tend to use them when I can in the hopes of justifying them to my guilty soul. I love a Normandy-style apple tart with cream and calvados, anything with frangipane, and tarts with perfectly arranged slices of apples make my heart go aflutter. This type of tart usually calls for a shortcrust pastry or pâte sucrée. I made the ones in the photo below by sautéing the apples in butter and sugar until they took on a bit of colour. I then put the apples in tartlet molds lined with shortcrust and baked them for 30 min. Once they were done baking, I placed a baking sheet on top of the apples to compress them into the tart, giving them a squared-off look. They were a hit.
Around these parts, though, the reigning, and undisputed, queen of apple pastries is the Tarte Tatin (see photo above). Tarte Tatin is one of Anthony's absolute favorites and he's been asking me to make one for an embarrassing number of months (embarrassing for me, not him). It wasn't until this week that I finally got around to making the one pictured above for a dinner party we'd been invited to. I "cheated" and used the leftover shortcrust pastry from the tartlets rather than the puff pastry that is used for a traditional Tarte Tatin. I'm unapologetic about this decision, though, because the tart turned out perfectly, and it also made it an easier tart to whip up at a moment's notice.
How did I make my Tarte Tatin? Well, I peeled, halved, and cored the apples. I then made a caramel from sugar, corn syrup, and a bit of water, letting it get quite dark but not burnt. I then added butter to it to make a sauce, instead of a hard candy. If you've never made caramel before and you're reluctant to, you should consult Sherry Yard's extensive section on caramel in The Secrets of Baking. Among other things, she offers the following pointers:
To caramelize sugar, you combine sugar, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan, cover it, and set it over high heat. As the mixture heats, it releases steam, which the lid traps. Condensation forms and runs down the inside of the pot, washing away any stray sugar crystals. After 4 minutes, you can remove the lid. The sugar will be boiling and noticeably thicker. Set a thermometer in the pot to monitor the temperature, which at this point should read between 230° and 240°.
As the water heats up, it evaporates. The sugar begins to thicken, and the bubbles get bigger. As the temperature increases, the color deepens and the flavor intensifies. These changes occur more quickly as the temperature rises. At 310°F, the sugar begins to turn a pale golden color and the caramel should be watched closely. At 310° to 325°F, the color is golden brown. Above 375°, the caramel becomes quite bitter. Because the caramelization process is irreversible, this stage should be avoided. In a heavy pot on high heat, the entire process should take about 10 minutes. I like my caramel dark, and I often cook it just to the point of being bitter. However, there’s a fine line between bitter and burned, so I advise you to take it off the heat at 325°F for golden caramel and 350°F for dark caramel.
[For her "Master Caramel" recipe, Yard recommends 1/4 C of water, 1 C of sugar, and 2 tbsp of light corn syrup. This recipe produces abnout 3/4 cup of caramel.]
Anyway, getting back to my Tatin, I tossed the sauce--like Yard, I prefer mine darker--with the apples and arranged them in the bottom of a pie pan. "A pie pan?" Yes, that's right, we're swimming in molds of all sorts, but as of yet we have no Tatin molds. Sad but true. I placed the crust on top of the apples, tucking the sides in, and baked it for 25 min. When the crust was golden, I removed it from the oven and inverted it onto a cooling rack. You can re-arrange the apples if they've gotten jostled around. And you should serve your tarte warm or at room temperature.
I served mine to a party of 8, quite a few of whom had never had a Tarte Tatin. It vanished into thin air.
* This line is from a round I learned when I was little: "Young rider, apple-cheeked one, come whither riding?, on your steed so proud and prancing, come whither riding?, no matter where I ride, Slavic mountains at my side, to Shemora, to Shemora."
I still don't know where or what Shemora is...