A Slice of Fall: Tarte Tatin
Do me a favor, will you? Find yourself an apple today. Not some ole granny smith flown in from afar, but an apple from a farm in your state (and if you don’t have apple farms in your state, you have no homework today; class dismissed). Bonus points if you buy it at a farmer’s market. Double bonus points if you pick it yourself. You know you’re on the right track when perhaps it’s a little imperfect, with a bruise or a worm hole. Now, give it a good wash, and in a place where you need a shot of pure ecstasy — at your desk, perhaps, or on a train platform, or while waiting at the doctor’s office — bite into it. Just a head’s up: you might exclaim at the explosion of crisp skin giving way to sweet, juicy fruit. It may be the best thing that happens to you today.
If you ever tire of eating these blessed spheres raw, make this tart. Baking a tarte tatin has long been on my to do list, and eating this over the weekend, first over a heated game of two-person Trivial Pursuit, and later in bed the next morning with coffee (I don’t think I need to tell you how heavenly that was), I wondered how I could have lived twenty-six years without making one myself. And then I thought of all the other items to make and bake and see and do hanging out on lists in various notebooks and scrawled on slips of paper tucked into overdue library books and it made me want to get to it. Not in an anxious, harried way, but in the way when you realize life is full of fun and possibility and you are filled to the brim with inspiration and armed with a rolling pin. The instructions for this tart seem long, I know, but I promise the recipe is not difficult or fussy (especially if you can offer a pal a glass of wine and get them to do much of the apple slicing while you’re, you know, supervising…); it’s really just a matter of making the pâte brisèe. Martha calls her recipe for pie dough perfect, and you know what? It was. So much butter cannot be a bad thing.
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (plus more for greasing pan)
all-purpose flour, for dusting work surface
1 cup sugar
dash lemon juice
2 1/2 Cortland or other baking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 thick
crème fraîche, for serving
Perfect Pâte Brisèe
(makes enough for two single crust tarts — save the second crust for another delicious endeavor)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup ice water
First, the dough: in the bowl of a food processor, add flour and salt, pulsing to combine. Add the butter and continue to pulse until the mixture resembles course meal.
With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, until the dough just holds together. I almost always seem to need more than 1/4 cup of ice water. You may need to add a bit more, but do so slowly, just a tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and divide in half. Place each half on a length of plastic wrap, shape into a disc, and chill for half an hour in the freezer. Wrap the extra dough especially well and leave frozen for up to a month.
Now, the tart itself: preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set aside. Also, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Lightly flour your work surface, and roll out the dough to a 9-inch round. Place dough on the prepared baking sheet and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. (I used the freezer again, but I think the fridge would have been better — just couldn’t find any room!)
In a small saucepan, mix together the sugar, 2 tablespoons cold water, and the lemon juice to form a thick syrup. Bring to a boil over high heat, swirling pan occasionally, and cook until the mixture turns a medium amber color. This took about 6 minutes for me, though Martha says it only takes 3. Pour the caramelized mixture into the bottom of the pie plate, and immediately drop in the butter pieces evenly across the hot mixture.
Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern, slightly overlapping, starting from the outside and working in. Drape the chilled dough over the apples to cover the mixture completely and cut off any excess dough.
Bake until crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and place a plate over the top of the tart. Over the sink, quickly invert the tart so that it will fall out onto the plate. Use tongs to lift the pie plate off the tart. Serve warm with crème fraîche, or at room temperature, preferably in bed.