Posted by: njbrown | November 9, 2009

Tarte Tatin triumph


Tarte Tatin triumph

Tarte Tatin triumph

November 8, 2009

I have been thinking about Julia’s Tarte Tatin.  Chef Michael Smith and one of the chefs in Boys’ Weekend each did one recently, and while the tartes didn’t look gorgeous, the process didn’t seem intimidating.  However, a dear friend recently tried Julia’s from Mastering after seeing Julie and Julia, and had problems with overflowing caramel that filled her kitchen with smoke, and set off the smoke alarms.  But, given my current frustration with chocolate, I decided to give Tarte Tatin a whirl.

Before seeing Boys’ Weekend, I had wondered if the butter and sugar couldn’t be put together before adding the apples to insure proper caramelization.  Sure enough, that’s what he did.  When I got out The Way to Cook, Julia said it was the fourth version of her Tarte Tatin recipe, but prefaced the recipe with the things that can go wrong, and that upped the intimidation factor.  In this version, Julia has you begin by making caramel, and then arranging the sliced apples in the hot caramel.  Other than worrying about getting burned, it seemed a superior approach because I could be sure the apples would be in a lovely, golden brown caramel – not too light, and not too dark.

(As I was doing this, the memory of my 7th grade home ec. assignment of making peanut brittle returned.  The only other thing I can remember making in that class was creamed chipped beef over toasted English muffins, so in retrospect, I think having students make sugar syrup without a candy thermometer was a bit ambitious of the teacher.  I recall being  told to be sure not to burn it, but for novice cooks, burning came all to quickly.  I’ll always remember the terrible smell.  I never tried peanut brittle again.)

Once I had the apples arranged, everything proceeded smoothly.  George helped with basting, since the caramel had a tendency to clog the baster for me.  Keeping my friend’s experience in mind, I put a cookie sheet on the rack below the skillet in the oven, and I had only the tiniest overflow.  No smoke alarms were activated.

Unmolding the tarte was the major challenge.  George has unmolded all manner of hot and cold things for me over the years because my nerves aren’t up to it, but he’d never unmolded something from a skillet, and Julia was very clear about not burning yourself with the handle.  We did a couple of dry runs with an empty skillet and platter, and when it came to the real thing, George was superb.  Not only did the tarte unmold, it was perfect.  I don’t often use the word “perfect,” in fact I tell my clients frequently that “perfect” doesn’t exist.  However, this was perfect.  Much prettier than the picture in The Way to Cook.  I can now die a happy woman having achieved something in baking I thought was impossible.

I had wondered if we would even like Tarte Tatin – the recipe sounded like a cross between a caramel-covered apple and apple pie.  I’d never ordered Tarte Tatin in a patisserie because while the design was pretty, it looked far more boring than something chocolate.  Once again, I was wrong.  It is delicious!  The flavor is very subtle and the texture is gorgeous – silky and delicate.  The pastry (and I confess I used a pre-made one since I rarely eat pie crust) remained crisp.  It definitely isn’t like apple pie. and I wouldn’t say there is a discernable caramel flavor.  It is unique.

George took a picture of my culinary triumph, since it may be a very long time before there is another one.  My unexpectedly success was probably attributable to having used Golden Delicious apples, and arranging each layer as carefully as the first.  The slices seemed to interlock well and withstand the rigors of bubbling syrup.  The other factor was probably that I used a cast aluminum non-stick skillet.  Or, it may have just been dumb luck.

Nancy

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