I have an extreme fear of public speaking that I have been working through over several years. This wasn’t always the case. When I was a kid, I used to enter speech competitions and contended at the school level for prizes. I acquired the fear after a one-time extreme exposure event: I was 7 months pregnant and standing at the podium of a municipal council meeting. I could feel the adrenalin rushing through my body after my name had been called. It was my turn to speak, to describe the projects my team was seeking funding for. I opened my mouth and there was no air. No air means no sound projection and I stood, perplexed, and watched as the room began to ripple with whispers. I heard one counselor as he leaned into his neighbour, “should we call an ambulance?”.
I managed to squeak through my performance that evening but it has marked me ever since. This week though, for the first time, I managed to get through a 45 minute presentation with ease, and even a little humour. So, cause for celebration.
Tarte Tatin – caramelized apples with pastry turned upside down after cooking – I love this dish. Mostly because it’s a fantastic vehicle for freshly whipped cream – but the pastry and caramelized apples are a draw too. And it is such a satisfactory dish to pull off as a cook, not least because of the happy fluid movement to turn the tarte out of the pan at the end. The combination, no doubt originated in Normandy. A cast iron pan is essential here. The recipe requires sustained heat that keeps the sugar caramelizing, and after a time on the stove top, the whole thing can be covered in pastry and biffed into the oven to finish cooking. It’s a simple, satisfying dish that professes elegance
There are a few tricks, ironed out by the wonderful crew at cook’s illustrated who take great pride in testing the minutiae of recipes. The apples should be quartered. Any smaller and they reduce to little slips of flavour, upsetting the pastry to apple ratio. The caramel and the apples should cook together from the beginning. Many recipes, especially North American versions, use a two-step process: cook caramel, then add apples. This usurps the original development of this dish – a quick, last minute, use only one pan in a busy country inn in the French countryside – don’t over complicate this…it just does no good to the finished product. The last trick is to make sure to turn the apples in the caramel before adding the pastry on top – this means both sides of the apples are caramelized and cooked evenly. Granny Smith apples are good and tart and hold their shape while cooking while softer varieties may not.
Tarte Tatin (adapted very little from Stephen Schmidt’s version, Cooks Illustrated, issue 18, 1996)
1 ½ cups (220 g) unbleached all purpose flour
¼ cup (30 g) confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (113 g) cold, unsalted butter, cut into dice sized cubes
1 large cold egg, beaten
½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
3 pounds (1.4 kg) granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
For the pastry – follow directions in previous pastry post adding the egg in place of the water. Be sure to chill the dough properly before rolling. Roll the dough into a flat round ( 30 cm or 12 inches in diameter) and place on a cookie sheet in the fridge while you cook the apples.
For the caramelized apples – Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position; heat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Melt the butter in a 9-inch (22 cm) cast iron skillet (or tarte tatin pan); remove from heat and sprinkle evenly with sugar. Arrange the apple quarters on their sides in a concentric circle round the pan – lift each quarter to nudge the one beside it slightly underneath so you can cram as many apple pieces in there (they’ll shrink so you want to keep the apple density up as much as possible).
Return the skillet to the stove top and cook over high heat; cook until the juices turn from butterscotch to a rich amber colour, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and using two forks or the tip of a knife and a fork, gently turn the apple pieces over to cook the second size.
Return the skillet to high heat; cook 5 minutes longer to caramelize the other side of the apples. Remove skillet from heat. Slide prepared pastry over to of the skillet, covering the apples. Working carefully – the caramel is screaming hot – tuck dough edges gently into the skillet wall – you may need to fold the pastry in at the sides.
Bake in the preheated oven until the crust is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set skillet on wire rack and let cool about 20 minutes. Loosen edges with a knife and plate a serving plate over top of the skillet, face down, and in one smooth movement, turn tarte upside down then remove skillet. Scrape out any apples that stick and replace them in the tarte – don’t worry if it looks a right mess, this is part of its charm! Serve warm with whipped cream.