Fanny’s Faux Pas — Tarte Tatin

November 4, 2010

An icon born of error.

Filial fare. Word has it that two sisters, Caroline (b. 1847) and Stéphanie Tatin (b. 1838), created this simple, to die for, Belle Époque tarte. They lived in Lamotte-Beuvron, a small rural town in the Loire Valley where they managed l’Hôtel Tatin. Lamotte-Beuvron is located in the forested hunting region known as the Sologne, about 100 miles from Paris.

The elder sister, Stéphanie a/k/a Fanny, manned the hotel kitchen…an exquisite cook but not the brightest bulb in the room. Locals, such as Claude Monet, made a point to spend Sunday afternoons savoring long, leisurely lunches there.

Stéphanie’s specialty was a luscious apple tarte, served ever so crusty and caramelized. One midday, while mired in the weeds during the hectic hunting season, Stéphanie started to make her usual apple tarte but in haste left the apples cooking in butter and sugar, forgetting to line the pan with crust. Time not being her ally, she decided not to begin the tarte anew. So, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry on top of the apples, and finished the tarte in the oven with the pastry and apples reversed. She then inverted the pan and served up the new fangled tarte renversée to guests who, to her surprise, purred nothing but formidables. Soon, it became a signature house dish and was later dubbed la tarte des demoiselles Tatin.

The tarte did not rise to gastronomic prominence until the epicure Curnonsky included it in a volume of La France Gastronomique dedicated to l’Orléannais, the region around Orléans that encompasses Lamotte-Beuvron. In the late 1930s, the rustic tarte’s celebrity rose to new heights when it appeared on the menu of Maxim’s, the famed Parisian restaurant.

Now, a global culinary darling: The tarte of two unmarried women named Tatin, or Tarte Tatin.

LA TARTE TATIN

Pastry Dough (Pâte Brisée Fine)
1 C all purpose flour
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small bits
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 t granulated sugar
1/3 C+ ice water

Briefly mix the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a bowl with your fingers. The pieces of butter should still be visible. Add the water, roll the mixture into a ball and knead for a minute or so. Do not overknead—the dough should have body and be pliable, but not too elastic and dry. Wrap well in plastic and let dough rest in refrigerator for one hour before rolling.

Tarte
5 to 6 Golden Delicious apples, quartered, cored and peeled
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice on 1 lemon
1 1/2 C sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
6 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Pastry dough

Preheat oven to 425 F

Cut the apple quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar. Allow to steep until they exude their juices, about 20 minutes. Drain.

Melt the butter in a 10″ heavy-high-rimmed-non-stick-oven-proof pan over moderately high heat. Blend in the vanilla bean and remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a caramel hue. It will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar.

Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan. Flare the apples slices in closely packed circles around the circumference of the pan, filling in the middle. Add enough apples to heap up 1″ higher than the rim of the pan. They sink down as they cook.

Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down with a wooden spatula as they soften. Draw the accumulated juices over the apples with a bulb baster. When the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10-15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat.

Roll the chilled dough to 1/8″ thick and a circle with a diameter 1″ larger than the top of the pan. Fold the dough in half, then in quarters and center over the apples. Then, unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan. Cut a few steam escape holes from around the center of the dough.

Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and tilt the pan. If the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove, but not to the point that the apples stick to the pan.

Place a serving platter upside down on top of the pastry and carefully flip the platter and the pan over, allowing the tart to fall gently out of the pan.

Serve warm, with whipped cream, ice cream or sweetened mascarpone.

Pourboire: Tarte Tatin can be made with other fruits, such as pears or quince. As you may imagine, savory versions exist too. A medley of wild mushrooms and herbs?

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