I heard a story on NPR once about the Tatin sisters and how they screwed up an apple pie recipe. They just went with the flow and figured something out and it became one of the best-loved apple recipes in the world – what is essentially an upside down apple pie. I think that’s a good approach to life in general – to take a mistake and make something even better although very difficult for me to implement. If I had forgotten to put a crust in the pan for the pie before putting it all in the oven, my first inclination upon realizing my mistake would be to crumple to the floor in a pile in anguished disappointment and cry through the afternoon. But clearly, making a Tarte Tatin is a much healthier response.
This is an awesome dessert. The MSBH recipe doesn’t call for the cooking of the apples prior to assembling the tarte which really moves things along. In fact, if you have a disc of pâte brisée hanging out in your freezer and you want some comfort food in not a lot of time, you need only to make this.
First, you make a simple caramel on the stovetop with water, sugar, and lemon juice. Once it starts to turn golden in color, you have to really watch it because it can get too dark. I made this mistake the first time I made this recipe and after a half-hour in the oven, the caramel just tasted too burnt to be good. So now I err on the side of being too light, because the flavor always seems to deepen in the oven.
Butter goes into the caramel and it’s ready for the final two ingredients: the apples and the crust. Easy-peasy.
I used both Honeycrisp and Macintosh apples, neither of which were ideal but it’s all I had on hand. The Honeycrisps faired better – the Macintoshes, not so much. In other attempts I have used different apples and I find Granny Smiths are the absolute best for what’s available in Laramie groceries. The MSBH recommends Rome or Cortland apples, but I haven’t ever found them here.
The pâte brisée goes on top with its edges tucked in to the pan. This is a detail the MSBH doesn’t clarify. I have tried making this with the dough kept out on the edges and then crimped like you would with a regular pie crust and while it was pretty, it just doesn’t work in the end. Tuck it in.
After baking, I inverted the tarte onto a rimmed baking sheet because the caramel always goes everywhere and your basic platter just cannot handle it. You can see how differently the two apple varieties baked. The Honeycrisp apples are light in color and still somewhat firm. The Macintosh apples are almost completely disintegrated.
Without anything to weigh it down during baking, the crust gets airy and light. Even after being inverted, it stays puffy and that’s one of my favorite things about this dessert.
I love this with Hagen Daas vanilla ice cream. The caramel that spreads over the pan will cool and you can chip pieces off and put them on top of the sliced tarte as decoration. It’s an easy go-to dessert if you have the pie dough already made and the right kind of apples on-hand. If the pie dough is already made, this recipe takes about 10 minutes of prep and 30 minutes to bake.