When I go to Paris (the “when” makes it sound like I “go to Paris” all the time – just keep on thinking that), I always feel a little guilty and a lot like a tourist when I order Tarte Tatin. I can’t help but feel like I’m ordering something safe and predictable and I wonder how many real live Parisians actually order it when they’re out for dinner. As soon as I say Tarte Tatin, I imagine the waiter thinking, “Touriste!” in his/her head. Well you what, I don’t care. I don’t care because who could argue that caramel soaked apples against crunchy sweet crust is not worthy.
There’s this tiny bar in the Marais called au petit fer a cheval and it is an itty boite of a place with perfectly composed salads and the smallest terrace possible and what I think is the best tarte tatin a girl could hope to discover after shopping the streets of Paris. Here’s the place:
I love their Tarte Tatin so much because the apples are deeply caramelized. They are dark and rich and melty. Also, the crust is generous and thick against the apples and the whole thing is served with a dollop of creme fraiche that is as thick and tangy as sour cream. I tell you it is stellar. Plus you will feel oh-so-Parisian sitting out front if you are lucky enough to snag one of the 8 seats.
I’ve made the Tarte Tatin from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini a bunch of times, and it hasn’t let me down once. By the way, every recipe I’ve made from that little book has been worthy of repeating. You should buy it if you love all things French. Now I don’t pretend that this tatin is as good as the one I love in Paris, but it is a strong second. The apples are not as richly caramelized, and I’m thinking this might be because it’s harder to judge the darkness of the caramel if you’re using brown sugar. Next time I’m using white and I’m going to take the caramel a bit darker (and make more of it too, I think). I want the apples to be absolutely soaked with it, the colour of amber. The crust is delightfully easy to work with and retains its crispy bottom even after refrigeration. Plus, when you present it to people, they will think you slaved for hours and that you are a talented apple-arranger, and you can simply smile, shrug in an effortless and vaguely French way, and say “Merci.”
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
8 tbsp chilled, unsalted butter, diced, plus some for greasing the pan
2-3 tbsp milk
Caramel / Filling
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
2 pounds baking apples (I used Honey Crisp and they held their shape beautifully and weren’t too sweet)
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and cut it in using a pastry cutter until you have a coarse meal. Add 1 tbsp milk and mix with a fork to combine. Add the second tbsp and mix. Try to see if the dough comes together with a little gentle kneading but you may need to add another tbsp of milk. Don’t overwork it. Gather it into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Butter a 9-inch cake pan.
3. Combine the brown sugar and 1 tbsp of water in a small heavy saucepan and melt the sugar over medium heat. Swirl the pan but do not stir it. Cook until you can see you have a rich caramel, but not too long or else it could get bitter. Remove from the heat and add the butter and the salt. Stir until everything is well combined and then pour straight away into your pan so that it is as evenly covering the bottom as possible.
4. Preheat the oven to 350º. Rinse, core, peel, and slice the apples into eighths and arrange them tightly in the pan in a circular pattern starting on the outside. I ended up making two layers so that I could cover up some of the holes from the first layer. I sliced the apples for the second layer a little more thinly.
5. Roll the dough into a 10 inch circle and prick all over with a fork. Drape it over the apples and tuck the overhanging bits under so that it’s tidy.
6. Bake about 45 minutes until it turns golden. Take the pan out, run a knife around the edge and tip it onto the serving dish. If any apples stay stuck to the pan, remove them and place them back in their spots on the tart. Serve warm. I put a little unsweetened whipped cream on it.
Here’s a song that will make you feel perfectly French:
(I found the lovely photo of the bar here).