Apples are often overlooked. They're a humble fruit - not as delicate as berries, not as fleeting or full-bodied as stone fruit, not as exotic as mangoes, as bright in colour or flavour as citrus, as quirky as quinces or watermelon or lychees... Here's what they are though. They're versatile - as wonderful with pork as they are baked in a pie or tossed raw through a salad or a slaw. They're inexpensive and available year-round in markets and supermarkets. They're crisp, they're tart, they're sweet and - in the hands of the French - they transform from a humble fruit into a sleek, sophisticated star attraction.
Tarte Tatin is an upside-down apple tart. Cooked first on the stove-top, then baked in the oven til the fruit is caramelised and the pastry that forms its base golden brown. As fancy as it looks, let me tell you, it's not hard. Really, it all comes down to confidence. Here's what you need to know: you don't need specialised equipment, just a cast-iron skillet or a frypan with an oven-proof handle, the kind as readily available in army disposal stores as kitchen emporiums. Don't fret about how dark the caramel should be, or whether the apples are going to stick to the bottom. The truth is that butter + sugar + apples is never going to disappoint and, if something does happen to stick to the bottom, you can always patch it back together and no-one will ever know the difference. When you come to invert the tart, use two hands to clamp pan and serving plate together, rather than flipping the pan with one hand on the handle and the other flat on the base of the plate. When you serve it, resist the temptation to gussy it up with accompaniments. It doesn't need them. Just some cream or ice-cream. And finally - perhaps most importantly of all - when passing round the pieces, make sure you get the biggest slice.
Recipe adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller
As to which apples to use... the original recipe calls for Golden Delicious, but I've always used Granny Smiths. I'm sure other varieties would be good too. You may need fewer apples than specified here. Just try to fit in as many as possible - they'll soften and shrink a little in cooking. And if you're planning this as the dessert at the end of a dinner party, it's fine to make ahead of time and then gently heat (at a low temperature in the oven on an oven-proof plate) before serving.
100g butter, chopped
7-8 apples, peeled, cored and quartered
100g chilled butter, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold water
For pastry, combine flour, butter, and salt in a food processor. Pulse til mixture ressembles coarse breadcrumbs then add water and process for 15 seconds or until mixture just comes together. Turn out on a lightly floured surface and shape into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Combine sugar with 2 tablespoons hot water in a heavy 24cm frypan with an ovenproof handle (I use my cast iron skillet) and cook over low heat, without stirring til sugar is dissolved and caramel is golden. Remove from heat, stir in butter and let stand for 10 minutes. Arrange apples in pan, overlapping and with cored side up. Return pan to heat and cook apples over medium heat, occasionally pressing down with the back of a spatula, for about 20 minutes or until a deep golden caramel forms around the apples and is bubbling over the quarters. Remove pan from heat and let stand while rolling out pastry.
Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to a circle slightly larger than the diameter of the pan. Quickly place on top of the apples so that they are completely covered, turning pastry over at edge to fit. Bake at 220 deg C for 30 minutes or until pastry is golden and cooked through. Wait 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. If any apple sticks to the bottom, just transfer to the top of the tart with a spatula. Serve warm in wedges with cream or ice-cream.