Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Sisters Tatin and Their Famous Apple Tart

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.

Tarte Tatin

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.

Roll into a circle.

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!

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Sarah said...

Very interesting post. I think I will try this with my red fife flour. To me it seems to have a cinnamon flavour to it.

La Table De Nana said...

A true classic..I have been remiss..I must make one again looks good both ways..I have always flipped:-)
Never added whole wheat flour..must try that too:-) love when someone shows their fancy for my food..keeper wonder one of your best.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...


I am so glad you made you post! We are ending the party late tonight, but your post here is a classic contribution to this array of French fun. I had read about the fortuitous beginnings of this famous tart, but you provide even more detail. Funny how things happen, and for the good!

I tried making one of these one Thanksgiving dinner, and it really came out sensational. There is something to say about things that don't require too much "perfection", but rather the essentials like TASTE and care. Tarte Tatin is just that for me; the crust should be of highest quality, but slapped on the top of a perfectly seasoned apple concoction and we are ready to enjoy.

LOVELY PHOTOS and many thanks for making the party!!! Anita

ArchitectDesign™ said...

How awesome is that chateau de tracy?? I want to go to there!

I love Tart Tatin (apple anything for that matter.....) and at our favorite restaurant in Paris that we always hit, they have a great version of it. HOWEVER as is often the case in France I find, they leave in the core and seeds (that then you have to pick out later?). I hate that! Do you know why the French insist on leaving them in? Flavor? a fun 'surprise'? haha I know some people swear by eating them but I think they're disgusting.

It's me said...

What a beautiful post !!! to met you in from!

Roselie said...

Very interesting post! Love to meet you and your blog!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, now I'm tempted to try this recipe too. From macarons to a delightful tart, would you believe I never liked baking? I am very free-spirited, so I tend to enjoy creativity that is a bit more relaxed. The measuring necessary in baking, esp something like a macaron that has to be so exact, challenges my personality, but I am finding that the more I bake AND achieve great results, the more I am tempted to bake again.
Love how you adapted Julia's recipe into your very own. Here's to creativity!!!
Thank you for stopping by the table, Deana. I look forward to more "formidable" visits. :)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

The most glorious of apple pies and tarts! I am seriously craving this right now. I love your addition of the whole wheat flour to the pastry. Very nice!

Palomasea said...

Thank you so much, dear Deana, for stopping by my cafe Gypsy! ;)

This was a fascinating post, and now my mouth is watering, bien sur!
I am embarrassed to say that I have never attempted Tarte Tatin, but I would love to make it. I really enjoy the history behind the foods and dishes we love....
Merci et bon weekend!
- Irina

Stacey said...

Just before reading your post, I was telling my hubby hat I'm craving some type of yummy dessert. Now, I'm drooling for an apple tart! Great post and pictures! Thanks for stopping by to see my post too:-).

Draffin Bears said...

Bonjour Deana,

Thanks for stopping by my blog and was great to find yours.
I enjoyed reading your French post.
Love Tart Tatin and often make it for my family. I enjoyed reading the history of this tart.

Happy weekend

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Dearest Deana!

Late or not, you have contributed a most generous helping of French history and lush taste in every sense of the word. I see some of my dear friends have been here, and sweet Irina is a WONDERFUL friend who lives in my area. I'm going to her house hopefully next week for a dinner of Brittany style crêpes! I will think of your culinary genius as we sup together. Thank you for coming by and ENJOY THE WEEKEND!!! Anita

Creations by Marie Antoinette and Edie Marie said...

I just gained 10 lb's looking at your gorgeous post.That tart looks sooo yummmmm.I love the old pictures ,I too love the Gothic style.
and it sure was nice to meet you too.
Till next tim,Marie Antoinette

prince snow farm said...

I LOVE a recipe with a colorful story behind it! So glad to have found you!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I never knew the back story behind Tart Tatin. Even when I was learning how to make this at a chateaux in France, there was no talk of how it came about, which would have made for a great conversation! Thanks for revealing the story beneath the crust!

Lori Lynn said...

Adore this post. We taught the technique a couple weeks ago at a cooking class. Always a bit hit.

We served with creme fraiche. Your photos are beautiful, making the rustic tarte look elegant...
P.S. I go for "flipped."

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

I adore this pie and all the legends that go with it. I have made t many times. Rule onr for me with htispie..lots of BUTTER lol. Your looks wonderful.

Denise said...

Sorry I'm so late in getting back to you.I was on a two week vacation that I will post on soon,Victoria BC.I loved reading your interesting story,learned much.Yum! Sounds wonderful-Denise

Sarah said...

I made your tarte tatin today. It is sooo good. I ate 3 pieces and now feel like I need a nap. I used the red fife. I also like the rustic texture. It flipped without a problem.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This is one of my favourite desserts ever and I love the story behind it too! :D

Draffin Bears said...

Thank you Deana for following my blog.
It has been fun to discover yours and to meet you.
enjoy the new week

Barbara said...

Some of our best dishes happen by accident. And frankly, no matter who invented it, sisters or not, Tarte Tatin is a world favorite. Can't imagine not peeling the apples and I flip. I want that sticky caramel topping to show. Drool. I doubt there's an upside down anything I don't love. Really like your idea of whole wheat flour because I love that nutty taste. It would work beautifully with apples.
My grandmother used lard in all her piecrusts and they were perfection itself.
Nice post for Anita's Party, Deana!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

How clever you are to leave it in the pan if it is not going to be eaten all at once.

jerilanders said...

Apple tart with Caramel,yumm. Here, in Tennessee, we would call this an apple cobbler, but yours looks much classier. I wanted to tell you how I enjoyed your comment on my post, about the peacock you met whilst getting your new puppy. Peacocks do have a special way of greeting guests, to make them feel oh so special!

Unknown said...

You are indeed a fabulous baker at heart. This dessert looks so delicious my mouth is watering. The history is fascinating-and haven't we all had that 'moment' in the kitchen of turning a disaster into something decent (or at least we try!)?
Lovely to meet you and thank you for your lovely comments on Stylemindchic. Cheers, Heather

Linda @ Life and Linda said...

Lovely posts, full of history. I made on of these amazing tarts for a Bastille Day dinner party. I will definitely try your recipe. Thank you for commenting your lovely thoughts on my blog. I am happily your newest follower.....Linda

Ken Albala said...

You are absolutely right about the crust and NOT turning it over. Half the time I plan to make this, I don't even end up with a crust on top, but just crumble butter and flour in a bowl and dump it over. works nearly as well. But it makes me want to try it in the fireplace!

Carole said...

Deana - I've always seemed to know about tarte tartin but had no idea the dish was named after real people - should have thought - after all a sandwich is named after a real person, too. Cheers