The Best Tarte Tatin is on Rue Tatin
When we entered number 1 rue Tatin in the town of Louviers, chef and author Susan Herrmann Loomis declared she needed help peeling the apples for the Tarte Tatin she was making us for dessert. There were 12 of us who had signed up for the day with her, to learn a few of her best cooking techniques, taste her handiwork in the kitchen and visit her centuries-old half-timbered home in the old Normandy town.
I quickly volunteered and then just as quickly broke a piece off one of the precious Normandy apples ruining Susan’s perfect design. Okay, okay…so I don’t make such a great sous-chef…and even more quickly left the rest of the peeling and coring to one of the others.
Susan showed us how to arrange the apples for a perfect Tarte Tatin and advised using the best apples you can find — one secret to a France’s best dessert.
The apples bubbled away on the stove in a big round copper pan, and while I basted them regularly with butter as they cooked, they caramelized and softened. We toasted with apple cider, tasted six different kinds of salt, and swooned over baked oysters with butter and pear sherry. Once the oyster liquor drippings had been cleared off the marble counter of rue Tatin’s luxurious country kitchen, Susan demonstrated how to make the tart’s buttery, flaky pastry using a Cuisinart instead of her bare hands and rolling it out thin, cutting it into a perfect circle.
In the oven the pie baked and we dined at one long table on chicken tajine with honeyed apples and orange flower water, braised Brussel sprouts, crisp fresh salad of mache, and an assortment of Normandy cheeses with both white and red wines in the charming dining room with a view on the Gothic church. This may be described here in one sentence, but it was really two full hours of gastronomic pleasure.
Then came the Tarte Tatin to top off the magnificent meal.
If you don’t know what a Tarte Tatin is, then think of it as France’s equivalent to the American apple pie, but upside down, and as much of an iconographic symbol of the nation’s culinary accomplishments.
The story goes that in 1888 at the Hotel Tatin in the Sologne region, deceased proprietor Jean Tatin’s two daughters, Stéphanie and Caroline, took over the management of the hotel. Caroline naturally took the roll as business manager while Stéphanie managed the kitchen. “From morning to night, she worked at her ovens with her copper pans. She was a particularly fine cook but was not the brightest of people. Her specialty was an apple tart, served perfectly crusty, caramelized and which melted in the mouth. One day during the hunting season, during the midday scramble, Stéphanie placed her tart in the oven the wrong way round. The pastry and apples were upside-down but, nevertheless, she served this strange dessert without giving it time to cool.” (http://www.tarte-tatin.com/)
France has never been the same since. Tarte Tatin can be found on just about every menu and I taste it everywhere I go. Finding the best one became a little sport long ago when I started taste-testing restaurants for the Leeds Good Value Guide. And I can positively assert that Susan’s upside-down apple tart is world-class — absolutely the best Tarte Tatin I’ve ever had the pleasure of savoring, served of course with rich fresh Normandy crème fraiche. We all agreed and licked our plates clean.
It was a memorable day and a memorable meal in the country that we couldn’t have had anywhere else but France. Both Susan Loomis’ cooking courses and her Tarte Tatin is just a reservation or a recipe away, so maybe you should try your hand at the best Tarte Tatin France has ever known…made by an American, no less!
Thanks to Susan’s generosity, here it is for all to enjoy:
SUSAN’S WORLD-CLASS UPSIDE DOWN APPLE TART
On Rue Tatin’s, signature dessert — make it with the most flavorful apples you can find:
One recipe for TENDER TART PASTRY
1-1/2 cups (300 g) Vanilla Sugar (see recipe)
10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks; 150 g) unsalted butter, cut into thin slices
4 pounds (2 kg) tart cooking apples, peeled, halved, and cored
I. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly flour it.
II. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to form an 11 ½ -inch (29cm) round. Transfer the pastry to the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
III. Spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a very heavy 10-to 10 ½-inch (25 to 26 ½ cm) ovenproof skillet; a simple cast-iron skillet is perfect. Place the butter slices evenly over the sugar, then arrange the apple halves on top of the butter. Begin at the outside edge and stand the halves on their sides, facing in one direction with stem ends toward the center. Pack the apples as close together so they are held standing by pressure. Make a second circle of apple halves inside the first, packing them in on their edges as well. Place one apple half right in the center of the second circle to fill in the small space that remains. The idea is to get as many apples into the pan as possible, while keeping them nicely arranged.
IV. Place the skillet over medium-low heat and cook the apples in the butter and sugar, uncovered, until the sugar turns golden brown; this will take at least 1 hour. Watch the apples closely to be sure they don’t stick; you may want to adjust the heat now and then, to slow down or speed up the cooking. As the sugar and butter melt and the apples give up some of their juices, baste the apples occasionally with a turkey baster. Gradually, the sugar will caramelize the apples nearly all the way through, though they will remain uncooked on top.
V. Preheat the oven to 425E F (220E C).
VI. When the cooking juices are deep golden and the apples are nearly cooked through, remove the pastry from the refrigerator and quickly and carefully place it over the apples, gently pushing it down around them, simultaneously easing it toward the center so that if it shrinks on the sides there will still be enough of it to cover the apples. Using a sharp knife, trim off and discard any extra pastry.
VII. Place the skillet on a baking sheet. Bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t be concerned if the juices bubble over; the tart will be more or less juicy, depending on the variety of apple you’ve used.
VIII. Remove the skillet from the oven. Immediately invert a serving platter with a slight lip over the skillet. Quickly but carefully invert the two so the crust is on the bottom, the apples are on top, and the juices don’t run off onto the floor. Remove the skillet. Should any apples stick to it, gently remove them and reinsert them into their rightful place in the tart.
IX. Serve generous slices as soon as the tart has cooled slightly, but is still very warm through.
One 10-inch (25 cm) tart; 6-8 servings
Copyright On Rue Tatin (Broadway Books 2001)
To learn more about Susan Herrmann Loomis and her “seductive” cooking On Rue Tatin, visit http://www.onruetatin.com or e-mail mailto:[email protected] and be sure to let Susan know you’re a Parler Paris Reader!
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. Be sure to join us for tomorrow’s Parler Paris Après Midi from 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more information. See you there!
P.P.S. Parler Parlor’s 8th Anniversary was celebrated with a huge turn-out, delicious crèp
es and lots of fun! See pictures at http://www.parlerparlor.com/events.html