When my invite to join Anita's Simply Irresistible party at Castles Crowns and Cottages I was happy as could be and set to putting together a piece on regional French delights. I visited my favorite writers and cookbook authors Madeline Kamman and MFK Fisher for inspiration. Although wonderful things bubbled up, all of the dishes I liked were fall and winter stews or simple salads. As work overwhelmed me this week I wailed and rent my garments that I would never find the perfect thing but somewhere in my fevered brain, two currents kept surfacing –– Tarte Tatin and the book, Auberge of the Flowering Hearth –– Baron Roy Andries de Groot's magnificent classic about following the seasons at an inn in the alpine valley of La Grande Chartreuse with 2 ladies making magic with local ingredients and a wood-burning stove.
I loved the book and it provided one of my first introductions to the Tarte Tatin. The ladies of the inn included it in a menu for "A Provincial Lunch" that included tapenade and crudites, Hochepot de Poule (chicken in a creamed wine), cheeses and Tarte aux Pommes des Belles Demoiselles Tatin.
Hotel Tatin, La Motte-Beuvron
The story behind the tart as de Groot told it involved an accident that began in a covered pan in the embers of an open hearth. The pan is called a four de campagne (a kind of dutch oven) I discovered, thanks to the research done by Henri Delétang who has written an entire book on the subject (La Tarte Tatin – Histoire et Légendes") and the website Tarte Tatin that I used for much of the intertesting tidbits on my favorite tart.
Henri Delétang, La Tarte Tatin
de Groot's version of the invention of the tarte involved the Tatin sisters in what was then a small Hôtel de la Croix Blanche in the Sologne district of central France (could it be the Hotel Tatin was originally called this – the only one I could find was at Mont Blanc).
"The story is that one day the younger sister was carrying an apple tart into the dining room when it slipped off the platter and fell on the floor upside down. She managed to scoop it up, but couldn't turn it over, because the crust had cracked. So she rushed it back to the kitchen and glazed it with caramel to hide the crack. It was such a a success with the customers that it has become one of the classic recipes of France."
Wikipedia posits that it was a forgotten pan of sauteéd apples that led to the dish.
From Tarte Tatin site
The site Tarte Tatin had the notes from a good friend of the sisters named Marie Souchon that involved a covered copper four de campagne topped with embers. Within were layers of apples and sugar and butter that were topped with pastry -–– nothing else (no cinnamon, vanilla or calvados). Unlike all of my favorite recipes, the apples are not cooked first. I tried this method once and was not pleased. The apples didn't caramelize at all rather they stewed –– blech. This technique may work with embers but not in a modern oven or perhaps that pre-cooking instruction was left off.
Fairy-book Chateau de Tracy
Apparently, Souchon said the recipe was passed along to the sisters by Count Chateuvillard's cook at Chateau de Tracy. Other suggestions as to its beginnings find Caréme had an upside-down cake in the 1840s (glazed gâteaux renversées) and the Solonge area had something similar called tarte solognotte (it is thought the Tart Tatin was invented toward the end of the 19th century). Since the sisters never wrote down their inspiration or recipe, no one will ever know for sure. Frankly, I was slightly stunned when I saw how much had been written trying to figure this out and enormous energy spent ferreting out the most original recipe –– but only slightly.
This is a truly great dessert. Over one summer holiday weekend I made 3 of them (one of my best friends ate nearly a full one right out of the oven –– his joy was so infectious I wasn't angry and made another, then another). Although one author felt leaving the apples unpeeled would add body to the dish, I didn't like the idea of any strings of texture since one of the things I like most about the dish is the melting texture of those apples. The other thing I do is leave it in the pan. I don't tip it over very often –– only when I know the whole thing will be eaten in one sitting. That way the crust stays beautifully crisp. A quick reheat in the oven the next day makes it perfect (I also don't refrigerate it but leave it on the counter topped with a big wire colander).
I use the Julia Child recipe for Tart Tatin as a base but have made a few changes over the years. I love the rustic quality of whole wheat in the tart crust. Julia goes the opposite direction and actually adds pastry flour instead with the AP flour. I always make it in an old 9" cast iron skillet.
5-6 apples (Granny Smith), peeled and cored sliced into about 8 slices each
rind and juice of one lemon
½ c sugar
1 c sugar
6 T butter
½ t cinnamon
1 T cognac
whipped cream or ice cream and/or sliced almonds are good for accompaniments
Steep the apples in the lemon and sugar for about 20 minutes. Drain
Preheat oven to 425º
Heat the sugar and butter till brown and medium caramel colored in a heavy, cast iron skillet –– stir after the sugar melts and it will look like caramel candy with a good varnish of butter. Remove from stove and place the drained apple in the caramel. Cook at medium high heat for about 10 minutes, basting with the juices. Then cover and cook another 10 minutes on a low heat. Remove from the heat and do another ladle of caramel over the top while you roll the pastry out. Place the crust on top, tucking in the sides. Put slits in the pastry to let the steam out.
Cook 20 -30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. You can serve it hot (wait about an hour) or serve it room temperature with whipped cream, ice cream and sliced almonds if you would like. You can serve it flipped or non-flipped as you wish.
¾ c flour
1/3 c whole-wheat flour
½ t salt
1 T sugar
1 stick frozen butter, cut into small pieces
2 T frozen lard, cut into small pieces
¼ c cold water
1/4 c flour for smearing
Add the dry ingredients and pulse to blend. Add the butter and lard and pulse a few times till it is still full of little chunks but not as fine as cornmeal. At this point I remove the blade and add the water by hand, stirring with a fork. Grab clumps and set them on a piece of wax paper. If the last bits aren't holding together, add a bit more water.
Take each clump, smear them on a well-floured portion of the work surface and pile them up. This makes the flakes. When done, form into a round and let chill for an hour.
Please visit Castles Crowns and Cottages to look at all the simply irresistible blogs that are honoring the best of France –– you will love them. They are about food, decorating and, well, life!