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Classic Tarte Tatin


Serves 6

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 107

This tart of caramelized apples in pastry is the perfect balance of sweet and tart. It’s amazing that it started out as a mistake, when hotelier Stéphanie Tatin accidentally put apples in a tart pan without lining it first with dough in 1889. To salvage the tart, she draped the pastry on top, baked it, and served it upside down, turning her mishap into a beloved classic.

For more Thanksgiving dessert recipes visit The Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner.

For the dough
  • 5-5/8 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 3 oz. (6 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbs. cold water
For the tart
  • 5 to 7 firm Granny Smith apples
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)
Make the dough

Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until coarsely mixed into the flour. Add the egg mixture in three additions, pulsing after each. Continue pulsing until you have a soft, shaggy dough that holds together when pinched.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Between two pieces of waxed paper or parchment, roll the dough into a circle that’s about 1/8 inch thick and 11 inches wide. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then cover and refrigerate.

Prepare the apples
A heavy-duty ovenproof skillet works best for this recipe; avoid using cast iron, which tends to get too hot and burn the apples.

Peel, core, and quarter 4 of the apples.

Put the butter in a 10-inch heavy-duty ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When melted, use a pastry brush to coat the sides of the skillet with butter. Cover the butter with the sugar and cook just until the sugar is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Lay the apple wedges in the skillet with their rounded sides down or against the side of the skillet. Build concentric circles, packing the apples in a snug single layer—it’s fine if there are gaps. Peel, core, and quarter as many of the remaining apples as you need to fill in any gaps. If necessary, cut the pieces smaller to make it easier to wedge them in. The gap-filling pieces of apple will form a haphazard second layer, but they’ll shrink as they cook, and you’ll be able to nudge the pieces into the newly widening gaps.

Put the pan over medium to medium-high heat and cook until beginning to bubble, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking until the apple juices are mostly boiled away and the caramel is a deep golden color, 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust the heat and reposition the skillet as needed for even cooking. The heat shouldn’t be too low (the apples will get mushy) or too high (you’ll burn the caramel). As the apples shrink, gently nudge the top layer of apples into the gaps.

While the apples cook, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

When the apples are done, transfer the skillet to the baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes before proceeding so the caramel can settle down. Meanwhile, let the dough sit at room temperature until pliable.

Bake the tarte tatin

Place the dough on top of the fruit and tuck in the overhang. Bake until the pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the tart rest on the baking sheet until the bubbling caramel quiets down, 3 to 5 minutes. Gently run a table knife around the edges of the pan to loosen any apples stuck to the sides.

Cover the skillet with a large serving platter—preferably one with a rim—and cover your hands with oven mitts. Carefully invert the tart onto the platter and remove the skillet. If some apples have stuck to the pan, use the table knife to lift them off and gently press them back onto the tart.

Let the tart cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting it into wedges. Serve with crème fraîche on the side (if using). While the tart is best warm, it can also be served at room temperature.

Make Ahead Tips

The dough can be refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 510, Fat (kcal): 28, Fat Calories (g): 250, Saturated Fat (g): 17, Protein (g): 4, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 7, Carbohydrates (mg): 63, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 1.5, Sodium (g): 310, Cholesterol (g): 105, Fiber (g): 2,

Photo: Scott Phillips

I was so disappointed in this recipe. I'm not new to making tarte tatin and this time, instead of using my usual Molly O'Neill/New York Times recipe, I decided to try Dorie Greenspan's (I've had success with her baking recipes before). I shouldn't have. The apples never fully caramelized; I think by adding the apples to the pan before the sugar and butter caramelized means the moisture from the fruit prevents getting a rich color. I had to give up when the apples were beginning to turn to mush, and still hadn't caramelized, which meant the apples were so pale in color and flavor. Also, the pastry dough was tough and flavorless; again, I should have stayed with my usual pate brisee which makes a buttery, flaky crust. Good thing I had a pint of vanilla ice cream on hand because I had made this tart for a dinner party and frankly, was embarrassed to serve it. I like to try different cooking methods for classic recipes and especially for ones I have made before. But next time I'm going back to Molly O'Neill's method which is guaranteed to produce a perfect caramelization which means you'll have the beautiful color and complex flavor of a true tatin.

Just a comment on the choice of apple variety here. I had the same problem as some others had with Granny Smith apples baking up mushy. I have used Grannys for many years always happy with the results, until last winter. I spoke with my grocer and he suggested that it might be hybridization that is to blame for the Grannys turning to mush. They are just not the same as they used to be. My solution is to use a different apple variety. I would suggest some but it will depend on where you folks out there live as to what varieties are available to you. Spys might be a good choice, they are what I would use, or Honey Crisp which holds together very well for me though they are usually a crisp eating apple instead of a baker.

The apple and caramel portion was heavenly. The crust a bit heavy and tough for such a wonderful dessert. Read my full review at:

this was too much work for what it was worth. not difficult, just time consuming. my granny smith apples were also mushy so i guess as per the instructions i cooked them for too long but not having made it before, i couldn't tell if the heat was too high. it just wasn't tasty enough to merit making it again. and what was the deal with the foil lined baking sheet? served no purpose! did they think my skillet was going to leak? anyway, had some leftovers the next day, at room temperature, and it was actually quite tasty. i'm going to try julia child's recipe and see if that's any better.

I thought I followed the directions, the pastry was tasty if a little thick. I did add some very old cheddar to the pastry as I like cheddar with my apple pie. My complaint is that the apples were mushy. I used Granny Smiths. I guess the idea of cooking the butter and sugar for a few mins then adding the apples and only cooking them for 10 mins is the best advice. I'll try that next time. I also coated my apples after they were peeled and quartered with 1t of Cinnamon...I thought it needed some cinnamon. Was delicious, just didn't like the mushy part.

Provide accurate execution congratulations

I wonder if it has something to do with the apples as my came out nice and I overcooked it by a minute or two. I will definitely make this again.

I made this - was very good - but the apples turned out far too mushy (like applesauce) in the end. I prefer my apples to have some firmness with a dessert like this - but not sure how to adjust the recipe so that the caramel still comes out a nice deep gold but apples are cooked shorter time. Maybe I'll try cooking butter/sugar without apples for long and only cook apples for about 10 mins

Delicious! My apples got a little mushy but it still tasted great.

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