A Tarte Tatin is a glorious sticky, sweet-topped, popular French treat made known by The Tatin sisters, Geneviève Caroline Tatin and Stéphanie Marie Tatin. It is one of those dishes with a picturesque, but suspect heritage. Legend has it that Stéphanie Marie Tatin, co-proprietor of a provincial French hotel, left apples for a pie cooking for too long on the stove one day. Alerted to her mistake by the smell of burning, quick-thinking Madame Tatin attempted to rescue the situation by covering them with pastry and baking the pie anyway. "After turning out the upside down tart," Wikipedia concludes, "she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert." Certainly, not the first time a chef has tried to pass off a mistake as a special.
Alas, the Larousse Gastronomique spoils this charming little anecdote with the bald fact that "the upside-down tart, made with apples or pears, is an ancient speciality of Sologne and is found throughout Orléanais." But still, we can still be grateful to les soeurs Tatin for bringing it to wider attention and inspiring such lovely creations as my Apricot Tarte Tatin and it just goes to show recipes are always more charming with a great story.
Apricot Tarte Tatin
- 75 grams (2 ¾ ounces) white sugar
- 2 tbsp of water
- a pinch of sea salt
- 40 grams (1 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
- a pinch of Ceylon cinnamon or the scraped seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
- about 300 grams fresh apricots, halved and stoned (about 7 or 8 apricots) NOTE: as too much liquid spoils the pastry, it is better to use ripe but not soft fruits here
- 375 grams (13 ounces) sheet of puff pastry
- some plain wheat flour for dusting your work surface
- crème fraiche or good-quality vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
- heavy-based ovenproof frying pan or Tarte Tatin pan from Le Creuset
- rolling pin
- For caramelzing the apricots, put the sugar along with about 2 tablespoons of water and the salt into a heavy-based ovenproof frying pan (I like to use my specialty Tarte Tatin pan here from the lovely people at Le Creuset) and set it over a medium heat. Cook until the sugar first melts and then caramelizes and turns golden brown. Do not stir the sugar but swirl it around the pan every now and then.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the butter with a wooden spoon. Then stir in the vanilla or the spices (if using). The caramel will be extremely hot so watch out.
- Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes as the caramel cools and thickens. It will look oily and separated to begin with, but will become smooth as you continue stirring. When the caramel is smooth, carefully arrange the apricots on top, cut-side up. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Unroll the puff pastry sheet on your lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll it out. Cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan. Place a dinner plate on the pastry and cut around it.
- Gently slide the pastry on top of the apricots and push down the sides. Prick the surface to allow steam to escape while baking.
- Bake the Tarte Tatin for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and the apricots are cooked.
- Using oven mitts, remove the pan from the oven. Be careful, as the pan as will be extremely hot.
- Leave the tart to stand for a few minutes to allow it to settle, then loosen the edges and place a large cake plate on top of the pan. Very carefully, but quickly, turn it over, using a folded dry tea towel to help you hold it, and allow the Tarte Tatin to drop gently on to the serving plate.
- Best served warm, with crème fraîche or a good-quality vanilla ice cream.
As far as the pastry is concerned, I like to use an easy puff pastry in summertime but some chefs (including Julia Child) go for the pâté sucré. At the end of the day, the pastry is really nothing but a humble vehicle for the gorgeous fruit base. If you serve the Tarte right away, puff pastry seems to be the way to go as it crisps up beautifully well, which makes a lovely contrast to the butter-soft fruit above.
Finally, there is the question of whether you add other flavors. Some bakers do not add anything more, while some recipes add vanilla seeds or even a bit of cinnamon. Since you all know that I can easily be considered a bit of a spice fan, I sometimes add fresh Ceylon cinnamon or even add a bit of Speculaas Spice Mix (Speculaaskruiden - my recipe can be found here) but you can go with whatever you like.
A Tarte Tatin is something of a teatime classic and it is definitely one easy recipe. It is all about the flavor of the seasonal fruit used, the crisp pastry, and that sweet, buttery caramel topping, holding the whole lot together. And it is probably at its best cut into slices and eaten while still warm. If you like to top it with a really good-quality vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche, then go for it, but, as usual, I think simplicity is best and we enjoy it plain, fresh from the oven.
No matter which way you serve this lovely tart, you will not regret having this amazing French recipe in your repertoire of easy and delectable summer desserts.