Apple Tarte Tatin

I was sitting outside today, thinking about what the subject of my tenth official post would be. I am little bit astounded that I have been able to put up nine other posts without running out of things to say. But as some people know, once you get me talking, it's hard to shut me up (sorry about that). Anyway, the air was warm, the sky was perfectly blue, birds were chirping, and the jasmine vine growing over our small fountain was bursting with fragrant white flowers. It was a perfect spring day. I had brought outside with me, my over-stuffed folder of recipes in an attempt to decide which one would be next. As I was perusing the folder I got a message on my iPad informing me that baseball season was starting today (though by the time you're reading this who knows where in the season we will actually be).

I'm not a huge sports fan. I can't tell you anything about football, basketball, or soccer. I don't know how to play lacrosse, rugby, or hockey. Baseball is the only sport I follow, and when I say, “follow” I use that term very loosely. I don't follow baseball as a whole; I just follow one team. I don't follow them in the off-season and I am not one of those people who will read about every trade or deal being made. Most of the time I watch clips of the games that are posted on the Internet rather than watching an entire game. I mentioned earlier that I don't have cable; so watching broadcast games is not always an option for me anyway. When I am able to watch a game on television, usually it's on in the background as I go about my business and if something exciting happens I will run into the room to watch the replay.

The first professional baseball game I actually attended was in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I was just a kid and really didn't understand what was happening. I cheered when everybody else cheered and I was quiet when everybody else was quiet. What I remember the most was the food. It was fascinating to me that people would bring food to you. How exciting it was when a man came around selling hot dogs and when the venders would throw peanuts to people in the stands from the aisle or even several rows away. Soda pop, cotton candy, beer, even souvenirs would pass by and all you had to do was wave and they would send it over. Later, when David and I lived in Brooklyn, we would often go out to watch the New York Mets, buying the cheapest seats way up at the very top of the stadium. It's a whole different game when you’re way up there, but they still throw peanuts at you and the souvenir man still has to trek up if you wave him over. The best part is that the line for getting ice cream in a little plastic cup shaped like a baseball cap, emblazoned with the logo of your favorite team, is much shorter up there.

It should be noted, there is a big difference to watching baseball and listening to baseball. I think baseball on television is fun (especially if it's a playoff) but when you listen to a game on the radio you really can get into it. The difference is obvious because on television the announcers are often not as boisterous. They can be quiet at times because you can simply see what's happening. But on the radio, since dead air is a killer, the announcer has to keep talking. It’s much more than just describing the play by play. Good broadcasters will describe everything that’s going on, from every shadow on the infield, to the locations where the players are standing. An experienced announcer can really make the game exciting and that makes the game far more interesting.

I remember a time David and I were driving through the desert to visit his father who lived in a remote little town a good distance from any major city. As we were traveling down the road the radio picked up a baseball playoff game and we decided to listen for a while to find out who was winning. The game up to that point had obviously been very exciting. You could hear the crowd in the background yelling and screaming and the announcer was really into the game. A few plays went by, and one of the batters managed to get safely to first base. Then he stole second, and then dashed to third base on a blooper to center field. Now there were two people in scoring position but the current batter was already at two strikes. The runners took their leads as the pitcher shook off the signs from the catcher. The infield was at double play depth. The pitcher looked tired, the catcher crouched down, the ball was thrown, the batter took a big swing… and at that exact moment the radio cut out and all we heard was static. Traveling down the road a bit more the signal came back just long enough to hear the crowd roaring and the announcer screaming something we couldn't understand and just like that the signal was gone again. Was he out? Did he get a hit? Did the runners score? Who knows? I suppose I could have checked the results in the paper the next day but as I said, I follow baseball... but why should I bother with the small details.

Ok just one more baseball story and I'll let it go...

David and I had traveled up to San Francisco to spend some time and attend a game. We managed to get a pair of really great seats that were only a few rows back from the dugout. Getting to our seats meant we had to walk through the tunnels right next to the clubhouse and player locker rooms. Now neither one of us are people who get star struck, we don't hound the players for autographs or anything like that, but when you’re at a game with 44,000 other people, there is an electricity in the air that gets to you. When you see the players up close, suddenly you hope you’ll catch a foul ball and get a player to sign it for you. You can get swept up in the spectacle of it all and for reasons you can't explain you find yourself screaming and cheering and secretly hoping the crowd will do the wave. In any case there we were, it was late in the game and David had decided to go get a coffee and well, since he was going he might as well get me some ice cream! The game was good but nothing too exciting had happened. There were no bases clearing home runs or any super close plays. That is until David left... suddenly the situation on the field was that if the man on third base scored, our team would lose the lead and quite possibly the game. The batter was swinging for the fences at this point and he connected on a pitch that sent the ball deep, deep into right field. Luckily for us the right fielder was able to dive for and catch the ball. He rolled down onto the ground and he threw the ball to the home plate as the third base runner was now barreling toward home. It seemed unlikely that the fielder could throw the ball all the way to home from so far but he threw with all his might. The runner decided to slide into home and as he dropped down to do so, the catcher stretched as far out in front of him as his arms would reach. He caught the throw from right field and just in the nick of time tagged the runner’s leg mere inches before his foot touched the bag. And the crowd went wild; I stood and screamed along with everyone else. I was jumping up and down and cheering and clapping and thinking the whole time, how David had missed the most exciting part of the game. Just as the crowd calmed down and the game resumed, David reappeared with my plastic baseball cap filled with ice cream. Moral of the story, don't ever get up during the game; that's when something spectacular will happen (unless of course ice cream is involved)!

Okay, back to my original story...

Chevrolet had a commercial that aired in the 70's that made a connection between everyone's favorite things: baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. I can still hear that tune in my head when it's real quiet around the house! I can't vouch for the Chevrolet part, but I do like baseball. I occasionally enjoy a good hot dog, and hey, surprise, surprise, I am quite fond of apple pie.

As I sit here on this gorgeous April day, I think however it's just doesn't feel like apple pie weather (I really can't believe I said that). I will have a post at some point featuring apple pie (I’ll dedicate that post to Beth and Julie!), but today is not that day. Instead I am pulling out of my folder something I think will be a great compromise; the French classic, apple tarte tatin. Which is almost an apple pie but upside down and with no bottom crust (I guess upside-down would make that no top crust). Make no mistake; this is so much more than apple pie and it doesn't need to be fall or winter for you to enjoy this dessert. A thick pastry crust, topped with super tender apples and it bakes in a caramel sauce that binds everything together. This is one of those things that you don't need to wait until after dinner to eat either. It's great in the middle of the afternoon to share with friends over a cup a coffee. A warm piece between breakfast and lunch really hits the spot too. And if you do serve it after dinner, consider a scoop of your favorite ice cream on top.

So here is how I make my Apple Tarte Tatin:

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes

  • 1 Egg Yolk

  • 3 tablespoons ice water

For the Apples:

  • 2 ½ pounds (about 6 or 7 medium size) Granny Smith apples (or your choice of any firm apple)

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

For the Caramel:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

You can use your favorite method for making the crust, but I just use my hands. Honestly there is no reason you should have to break out your food processor for this. 

In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar and salt until it’s well combined.

Add the cold butter to the bowl and quickly work the butter into the flour by squishing the butter and flour between your fingertips. Keep working the butter into the flour until your mixture looks a little like grated Parmesan cheese. You might be able to see a few chunks of butter still in the mix and that’s okay so long as they are not larger than a small pea in size. You do want to work quickly and only use your fingertips to work the flour in, so the butter stays as cold as it can.  Warm butter makes a greasy dough and that’s not good.

Next mix together the egg yolk and the ice water in a small bowl and add it to the flour mixture.  Using a fork, stir the water and egg into the flour only until the mixture just starts to come together. It will look a little like cheese curds. At that point dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times in order to bring the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough into a round disk about ¾ inch thick and wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about one hour. When flattening the dough try to get it into a nice circle as this will help when rolling it out.

When the hour is up remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a floured surface. If your dough is too cold allow it to rest about 15 minutes before rolling. Ultimately you want to roll the dough out into a circle about 10 ½ inches in diameter. When you have it the proper size, place it back in the refrigerator while you are preparing the apples. You want your dough to be very cold so the butter won’t melt when we place it on top of our apples, in the next step, which will be very hot.

Next we'll prep the apples...

First, it's time to preheat your oven to 425°F, with the oven rack in the middle position.

Now, peel the apples and cut them in half. Scoop out the seed core with a teaspoon and cut out the stem and flour ends. In a large bowl toss the apples together with the 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the ¼ cup granulated sugar. Let them rest in the bowl as you prepare the caramel.

Grab a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Be sure your skillet is oven proof, I cannot stress that enough. Although a number of people recommend using a non-stick skillet – I do not, as you will be cooking in a hot oven and a lot of non-stick pans are not rated for that kind of heat. Be safe, use stainless steel or cast iron.

Melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted remove the pan from the heat and add in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 cup of granulated sugar and stir with a wooden spoon (or heatproof silicon spoon) just to get everything combined.

Place the apples in the pan starting along the outside edge of the pan, overlapping each apple. Then fill in the middle section. Yes it’s a tight fit, that’s what you want. I used 6 ½ apples today. 

Set the pan over a high heat. Soon the sugar will start to bubble up around the apples. Take a spoon and shift the apples in the pan every now and then so as to push down the parts of the apples sticking above the syrup so the whole apple gets coated and they cook evenly. I also baste the tops of the apples a bit during the cooking time by sliding my spoon under the edge of one of the middle apples to get some of the syrup and pour it over the tops of the apples. You will notice after about 15 minutes the sugar bubbles will start to take on some color. Shaking the pan gently back and forth a few times will help to stir the sugar on the bottom of the pan and promote an even color. In another 5 minutes the apples will be good and tender and the sugar will be a nice caramel color.

Remove the pan from the heat.

Grab the pastry from the refrigerator and place it on top of the apples. Quickly tuck the edges of the pastry down inside the pan and around the sides of the apples with the back of a spoon. BE CAREFUL! The caramel sugar is about 4 million degrees at this point and if you touch it, it will stick to you and that really, really, really hurts. Just trust me on this one, no need to test the theory yourself. The pan itself is also very hot, so just be mindful as you put on the crust. You also want to work quickly here so the crust doesn’t heat up too much and melt the butter you’ve been trying to keep cold all this time.

Cut three or four vents into the top of the pastry with a knife to allow steam to escape and put the pan onto a parchment lined sheet baking sheet. Bake until the top of the crust is golden, about 20 minutes.

When it’s done take it out of the oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes. I usually just set it on top of the stove and leave a pot holder on the pan handle to remind me that the pan is blazing hot.

After 5 minutes or so you’re going to flip it. The skillet will still be hot so using oven mitts, gently shake it from side to side to loosen the apples. Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to be sure the crust is also loose. Place your serving plate over the pan (it's a good idea if the serving plate has a bit of a rim to catch any liquid there might be). Quickly (but carefully) invert the pan and plate then lift off the pan allowing any remaining syrup to drip onto the tarte tatin. If any pieces do stick to the bottom of the pan gently loosen and replace them.

Let the whole thing continue to cool down for at least 30 minutes so the apples have some time to firm up before serving. Cut it into wedges, plop a scoop of ice cream, or a dollop of whipped cream on top if you like, and call it a day!

Oh and if you’re keeping score... in the first game of the baseball season, my team lost.