Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Classic Recipes: Tarte Tatin

This weekend we visited my parents and I decided that I would like to try a classic recipe that I'd never made before to contribute dessert for us all.  It was also a good opportunity to take advantage of my Mum's gas hob, far preferable to the cheapo electric jobby that's installed in our rented flat.  I browsed the web for recipe inspiration and settled on the French classic, Tarte Tatin.  I love apples and it's a good time of year for them so it seemed a good choice.

I decided to use Mary Berry's recipe from the Great British Bake Off; if it is good enough for the contestants of the show then it is definitely good enough for me.  It also meant I got the opportunity to watch Mary herself making it courtesy of You Tube before I began which would hopefully increase my chances of producing good results.

First the pastry.  Here Mary shows off her experience straight away by suggesting freezing the butter and lard, then grating them into the flour to help achieve the small lumps of fat in the pastry layers which apparently make it the best.  I did just as I was told of course and all was going well until I was 3/4 the way through grating in the butter.  I thought it looked quite a lot, more than I expected for the quantity of flour so I checked the recipe and found that I have lost the ability to read a simple list of ingredients.  I'd weighed out twice as much butter and lard as I was supposed to.

pastry ingredients pastry rolling pastry square

I fished out what I hoped was the right amount of grated butter from the bowl and set it to one side, halved the block of lard that was waiting to go and carried on, muttering to myself and berating my own ineptitude.  I used a knife to 'stir' the fat in the flour to get it all nicely coated, then added a bit of water and brought the pastry together, handling it as little as possible.  I deliberately made it the tiniest bit wet so as to not end up with it being too dry once I'd rolled it out.

I rolled out my pastry ball on a well floured work surface, pressing it down with the rolling pin and minimising the actual rolling action, until it was a long rectangle then folded it over in thirds as instructed by Mary, goddess of cakes.  I turned it 90 degrees and repeated this process of rolling and folding so that I had a square of pastry roughly 10cm square.  I wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge to cool off again for 20 minutes.  Whilst it was doing this I thought I'd make use of the extra fat I'd grated unnecessarily so I made a second batch of pastry thinking my Mum could put it in her freezer until she has call for some rough puff.

I gradually built up the layers in my square of pastry by going through the rolling, folding, chilling process two more times and then the pastry was ready to use.  During one of the chilling periods I made the caramel which forms the base of the Tarte Tatin when its baking, a time in the production process that I like to think of as Before Turning, aka Before Mega Stress.

boiling caramelMary advises to make sure you don't overdo the caramel or it will go bitter so I enlisted the help of my Mum to judge the reaching of the perfect golden brown colour.  We watched the boiling caramel like hawks, frowning in concentration as it changed from clear to lightest gold and my Mum declared it had less than 30 seconds to go.  When she gave the signal I removed the pan from the hob and quickly poured the caramel into my designated baking dish.  It cooled a bit faster than I was expecting so I didn't manage to swirl it over the whole bottom of the dish.  Mary didn't seem to have this issue so perhaps her dish was slightly warmed to slow the process a little.

You'll notice from the pictures that said dish is not perhaps what you might expect.  Between Mum 
and I we didn't have a fixed bottom dish of the right size; they've sort of gone out of fashion a bit and the shops are full of loose bottoms.  I decided that my paella pan would do the job despite being a little large, it doesn't get used that much and it would probably be glad of a change of scene.

Pastry and caramel done the only thing left was the apples.  I chose Royal Gala apples for this, they're a beautiful colour and sweetness and felt like a good option.  You must use eating apples rather than cooking apples for this dish as they hold their shape instead of breaking into mush.  A mushy top isn't going to impress anyone.

first apple layer first apple layer complete

I chopped them into thin slices and began arranging the apples in a circle over the caramel in the paella pan.  Another tip here is to layer the apples the opposite way to how it feels natural so that when the Tatin turns over (the period After Turning when things get calmer again) you'll see the slices the 'right' way round with the pretty pink skins showing.  The remaining apple slices were in a bowl and I added the zest of a lemon then warmed the whole lemon slightly in the microwave and added the juice to the bowl as well.  Apparently warming it a little helps to get more juice out of the lemon and I'd say it worked, I had loads.  Once the first layer of apples is in place you can be a little less precise about the positioning of the slices so I did a bit more circling properly and put the last lot in randomly.

first apple layer first apple layer complete

It looked an awful lot of apples to me but I pressed them down a bit as instructed and then took my pastry out of the fridge ready to roll out.  Now for a round dish obviously you really need round pastry but mine seemed determined to stay as square as possible.  I'm sure it never stays that square when you're trying to get straight edges!  I got there in the end (well there were rounded corners at least) and lifted it over my apples, tucking it in at the edges.  A quick cut in the middle to give a steam hole and it was into the oven with my Tatin.

tarte tatin ready for the oven 40 minutes later it was the moment of truth and I removed my very first Tarte Tatin from the oven.  It looked OK at first glance but most things do when all you can see is pastry so I really wanted to get to After Turning and see the reality.  First of all I drained off the juice into a pan and added some caster sugar ready to make a scrummy caramel apple topping.  I placed my serving plate over the top of the paella pan and tried to work out the best way to hold it so that I could turn and not drop.  After all that effort I really, really didn't want to drop it or for it to slip or any other disaster.  It must have happened to hundreds of people, how awful would that be?

I put the oven gloves on and tried to get a good grip on the pan and plate but there just didn't seem to be enough feel through the thick gloves.  I just so happened to have bought some new oven gloves for home so I got those out of the bag and took the tag off.  They were a little thinner than my Mum's and I could get a better grip but I was pretty flustered by this point and the joined part of the gloves seemed to be a hindrance.  Time for a slightly different tactic.

Instead of holding each side of the paella pan I decided to get one hand underneath and one hand holding the plate firmly in place on top.  Without giving myself time to think too much about it I just went for it and turned the whole thing over.  It went PERFECTLY.  Phew!!

Tatin on plate and looking surprisingly impressive I thought, I quickly heated the juice I'd poured off with the caster sugar until all the sugar was completely melted and then poured it over the Tarte Tatin.  This gives the most amazing, glossy appearance and was worth making the little extra effort to do.  By this point I could smell the delicious apples and caramel and I was dying to dig in but I'm determined to follow these classic recipes exactly so it was important to do and so worth it.

I served the Tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream and it got total approval from all four of us.  Some apple dishes I'd be tempted to add cinnamon or raisins but not this one.  It's much lighter than an apple pie for example and has a refreshing taste that I just wouldn't want to mess with.  A big hit and I was absolutely delighted with the results.  A Tarte Tatin can most definitely be achieved in a normal person's kitchen.

glossy caramel tarte tatin tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream

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