Let's get one thing straight: I've never been a baker. There was a short stint, back when I was taking Adult Living in high school, when I managed to make a nice sour cream pound cake and, more impressively, an apple pie completely from scratch, crust and all. But ever since then, I've been more of a savory sides-and-main kind of girl.
I have another confession: this is not entirely my recipe. It's largely another cook's adaptation of a tarte tatin recipe from The Joy of Cooking, which I found at Deb Perelman's blog Smitten Kitchen. All I did was add the idea of the puff pastry crust, which makes the whole thing easier. I've proven once in my life that I can make a pie crust from scratch. I don't need to do it every time I make a dessert, especially when I like puff pastry better anyway.
And now, for the reason I chose this particular tarte tatin recipe: she calls it "Molly's Apple Tarte Tatin." For those who don't know me, I used to have a wonderful cat named Molly. She had a short tail that wouldn't bend and a calico coat so vividly variegated that it prompted me sometimes to call her names like "Butterscotch," "Bumblebee," and "Speckle." She adored pepperoni and anything made of pork - we used to say she lived in Birmingpig. She was (appropriately) a Leo who was sure upon meeting you for the first time that you were just going to love her. She had teeny, skinny arms and legs, an enormous belly, huge green eyes, and donkey ears. This may not make sense, but D always said that her features made her look sort of like Audrey Hepburn. Two years ago this November, we took her to the vet for some apparently innocuous breathing problems, and as it turns out, she had heartworms. She died on the ER table that night, lying between D and me, mercifully sedated.
So, this recipe is for the lovely Molly, our little piglet.
I apologize that I only have a picture of the final slice of the tarte and not the whole thing, but I made it for dinner on Friday night with D's parents, and we demolished the whole thing in under 24 hours. Not bad. Anyway, I kind of like the picture the way it is: one lone slice left, swimming in a pool of pure salted caramel.
The gestalt of this recipe is not to be underestimated. It's composed of a deceptively short list of simple ingredients that somehow, when cooked this way, become nothing short of sublime. As a final note, let me just encourage you not to skimp on the chantilly cream - when it comes to dessert, I say go big or go home.
tarte tatin with chantilly cream
7 medium apples (We used Gala.)
1 stick (4 oz.) salted butter
1 cup sugar (white or brown, depending on your preference)
1 frozen puff pastry crust, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
Take out the thawed puff pastry and unfold it. Using the same 10-inch skillet you’ll use for the apple filling as a template, lay the square of pastry over it and cut off the corners so that it’s basically circular and fits inside the skillet’s top edge. Fold it back in thirds and put it back in the refrigerator, covered in a tea towel or paper towel to keep it damp.
Peel and core the apples, cutting them into quarters – nothing smaller, as they’ll cook down quite a bit. You don’t need to toss them with lemon juice to keep them from browning; they’ll brown plenty in the pan, if you’re lucky! :)
In a 10-inch diameter, heavy, oven-proof skillet, melt a stick of salted butter over low heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in a cup of sugar. Tap or bump the pan so that the mixture is evenly distributed over the bottom.
Arrange the cut and peeled apple quarters side-down in the skillet, overlapping them first in a layer around the edge of the skillet and then filling in the middle. Stack them as closely as you can.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put the skillet back on high heat on the stove. Boil sugar, butter, and apples over high heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until juices are starting to brown some. Using a sharp paring knife, spear each slice and carefully flip it over in the pan (it’ll take a couple of minutes to do all of them.) Then continue cooking on high for another 5 minutes or so, until it’s really brown.
Take the puff pastry crust out of the refrigerator and cover the skillet with it, tucking in the edges a bit on the sides. Be careful not to burn your fingers!
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, just until the crust is as golden-brown as you like it.
Take it out of the oven, let it cool for a half hour, and then carefully flip it onto a large plate. Use a rubber scraper to get all the caramel out of the bottom of the pan, and spoon it on top.
1 small (6 to 8 oz.) carton whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. sugar
Whip all three ingredients together in a large bowl with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks. Put a dollop on top of your tarte slice.