Man cannot eat by rutabaga alone.
Just because it doesn't have meat doesn't mean it has to be good for you.
Just to keep it real every once in a while I will try to include an artery clogging non meat recipe. As Thomas Aquinas said, "One cannot be blessed unless one has sinned." I really don't know if he said that but what the hey... it sets up the premise.
Let us begin at the beginning:
Preheat the oven to 425 °F/220 °C
What you’ll need:
An ovenproof skillet. Listen I’m lucky I have a pan that I only use to make one thing... Tart Tatin. I got it in France but it’s German and the handle comes off... lickety split. It’s non-stick but it’s the good stuff, not the delicate stuff that come off in your eggs when you look at it the wrong way. But like I said I only use it for this one task. I suggest you use what you have and if it’s a 10” well seasoned and broken in cast iron skillet you are well on your way. Note though... whatever you use it will have to be ovenproof because the whole thing winds up in the oven.
- 8 to 10 medium sized ripe Granny Smith or Golden Delicious Apples... it’s a numbers game. You need 40 apple quarters for a 12” skillet, less for a 10”. Also the tarter the apple the better. A too sweet Tart Tatin is a sad and cloying thing. A "tart" tart is happy thing.
- 2 hand fulls of sugar. Again, tart is better than too sweet but a Tart Tatin is all about the caramel... well apples and crust too.
- 100 g/3.5 oz of salted butter
My usual rant about weight vs. volume continues. Weigh most of the dry stuff... please!
For the pastry:
- 350 g/2.5 cups all purpose flour
- 225 g/1 cup of chilled salted butter (cut into ¼ inch slices)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 60 ml/2 oz vodka
- 60ml/2 oz cold water
- ½ teaspoon salt
OK first let us peel and quarter and core the apples. I use this for the peeling operation.
Others like other things. Just get the damn peels off the apples. Do not... I repeat... cut them into smaller pieces than quarters.
Heat up your pan over medium heat. Add the butter. Let the it melt and then swirl it around the pan to coat it evenly. Add the sugar. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon allow the sugar to dissolve in the butter. In a few minutes the sugar and butter will more or less have become a dark brown colored caramel. Here’s your color reference.
Now reduce the heat.
Now it’s time to add the apples. It’s like we are going it build an igloo. So the first layer looks like this and you build it from the outside in. Be careful with the hot caramel... it’s like napalm, you don’t want that stuff sticking to you. You can if you wish pull the pan from the heat.
OK the next layer goes in and looks like this.
OK now if you have been a coward and working off of the heat return the pan to the stove, cover the pan and let the apples more or less steam for maybe ten minutes over low heat. While the apples are simmering why not get started on the pie dough?
Over the course of my years with Tart Tatin I have tried a few recipes for pate brisee... which is your basic buttery pie dough. Currently there is one from America’s Test Kitchen making the blog rounds. It substitutes Vodka for half of the usual water. I used it for my last 4 Tart Tatins and although it sounds a little gimmicky it does indeed make for an even lighter crust. We’ll go with my adaption with it for this recipe. The logic behind the booze in the pie dough is that unlike water alcohol becomes gaseous at a lower temperature than water...gaseous as in turns to steam, exits and leaves behind flaky goodness. It works.
Pie dough: To food process or not to food process. Like I mentioned in my recipe for hummus I have a love hate relationship with my food processor and to be honest except for the U.S. of A. they are no longer the most popular kitchen gadget on the planet. For the many things the “Blender on the Stick” has usurped it’s position as the dominant chow mangler. To be honest I find that for many kitchen chores I prefer to use the sweat of my brow and my big strapping biceps. My whisk and I are faster at whipping cream and egg whites. I am the "John Henry" of the wisk. Chopping garlic and a medium size amount of onions... same. Grating a little bit of cheese... forget the expensive counter clutterer... give me the buck and a half grater. Some how it just feels better to do things by hand. But... for pie dough... the food processor really does make it all just bit more doable. Don’t get me wrong making pie dough by hand is really not much more difficult and for someone like me who loves to distribute my micro organisms throughout my food and the food of my loved ones, me knowing just about everything I eat in a deeply physical way is really satisfying. For this recipe and for simplicity I will walk you through the food processor version but in the not too distant future I’ll show you how to make great pate brisee with just flour, butter, a little salt, a little sugar, a big bowl, your two hands and billions of microbes.
This is going to make a batch of dough that is roughly double for what you’ll need. You can freeze half for another project like asparagus wonder sticks or vertical lemon meringue pie.
OK using the chopping blade put one cup of flour and the salt and sugar in the food processor and give it more or less 6 one second pulses.
Add the chilled butter that you have previously cut in to ¼ to ½ inch slices. Process on high for maybe 15 seconds. The amount of time somewhat depends on how cold your butter is. Very, very cold butter... more time, a little warmer... less time. At some point you will have push the unprocessed flour that somehow has been spared by the blades of doom away from the outside of the bowl and towards the center. The results will resemble clam chowder... just kidding... a coarse cornmeal. Just take it to this point... like me on the weekends with pie dough it’s all about doing as little as possible.
Now add the rest of the flour and give it maybe 8 more pulses.
With the machine running, slowly pour (actually more like dribble) the cold vodka/water mixture down the feed tube until the dough begins to resemble clam chowder... sorry... dry-ish cottage cheese. If you continue on it will become a ball... which will be very easy to work with but could unfortunately be a great substitute for concrete. Stop at the cottage cheese stage. And drink the rest of the vodka.
OK here’s another trick roll out two strips of plastic wrap which thanks to our friend static electricity will have no problem sticking to each other. Join them because you want to make big sheet that is a comfortable amount larger than the skillet that you are using for this dish. OK dump the contents of the food processor bowl onto the plastic wrap and gather it up lightly into a ball. Divide the balls and take one half, wrap it in plastic wrap and put in the freezer for another day. Now shape the remaining dough into a thick disk. The key to a light and tender crust is to keep everything as cool as possible, mess with it as little as possible and to use as little moisture as you can to hold it together. Sprinkle a little flour onto the dough and starting from the center roll it out until it’s an ⅛ to a ¼ inch thick and is at least an inch wider than the your pan.
If you need to you can add flour to the surface of the dough to prevent the rolling process from gumming up. I think a nice thin wispy crust is a nice contrast to the dense and juicy slabs of apple.
Once this is done slide both of your hands under the pasty and transport the whole affair to the waiting tart to be. Now sort of flip the dough onto the apples. It’s more of a rolling motion than a flip... but just get it on top off the apples. Once it’s lined up peel off the plastic wrap (you can save this to use again). Tuck the excess dough into the pan. If for what ever reason you wind up short on one side and long on another... just tear off the excess and stick to the missing section. It's better to have a rustic looking crust (which will be buried under the apples anyway) than one that looks perfect and manufactured... which usually means that you have messed with it too much and it will not be as flaky as possible.
Pat yourself on the back... you are like 90% done. Now lower the oven temperature to 325 °F/160 °C and slide the tart onto the middle rack.
ALERT! This double wide Tart Tartin often emits excess juice as it cooks. Save yourself the trouble of cursing my good name by placing the skillet on a cookie sheet, lipped baking tray or one of those oven racks that is a solid platform rather than wire. You can further reduce your pain by putting down a layer of aluminum foil.
Once the top is golden brown (about 35 minutes) you’re ready for the 3rd degree burn/call 911 section of the program. Let us now talk a little bit about the concept of done. The problem is the density and thickness of the apples. You really want them to be really cooked through. I have seen some Tart Tatin’s where the apples have been reduced to more or less apple sauce... usually though their apple-osity is completely intact... regardless all versions are completely delicious... What does this say? Cook the tart until the apples are done and don’t burn the crust. There is quite a bit of leeway. You could for example cook this for a much longer time at 275 °F. I don’t think however I would experiment with a hotter oven and a shorter cooking time. Physics tells us that this might work for turkeys but in the case of such molecularly mismatched materials as pie dough and fruit you’re looking for a burnt/raw mess.
And now onto the tart flip.
First let the tart cool on a wire rack. It need to be cool enough to deal with but hot enough to have the pan be removable. Having said that let us begin.
1. First place a plate or a platter that is bigger than the top of the tart. Remember shortly everything will inverted so what is on top be on the bottom and what is on the bottom will be on the top... So choose your plate wisely.
2. Now wearing either a hearty oven mitt or resting a kitchen towel that is a few layers thick in your hand slide the pie and the plate that is covering it onto your now protected hand. Place your other hand on top of the plate. The pan, the tart and the plate can actually weigh quite a bit so... prepare thyself well. You might also want to wear an apron or an old shirt because on rare occasion... the tart will spit juice at the gravitation apex of the flip. NASA and JPL are working on a fix for this... It doesn't usually happen... but sometimes it does with some apples (like goldens) that are on the ripe side. I find that if you let the tart rest and cool for a while the excess juice tends to get sucked back into the apples.
3. OK... take a deep breath, And.... One. And... Two. And... Three! Flip it!
OK one of two scenarios have just played out. Scenario A. The pan is on the top and the tart is on the plate. Scenario B. You have a beeg mess. Let us assume that you have Scenario A. Slide the plate onto the counter and remove the pan. Ta da! Suddenly an angel choir rings out. A shaft of light descends from somewhere. Cary Grant pops his head around the corner and says, “You look marvelous.”
Congratulate yourself. Your social capital has just increased a thousandfold.