Tarte Tatin that anyone can make

A can-do how-to

September 29, 2010

As legend has it, the tarte Tatin was invented in central France more than a hundred years ago, when one day a cook at the Hotel Tatin baked an apple tart in a skillet and then inverted it onto a serving plate.

Of course, there’s more to the story than that, but when you make a tarte Tatin, that’s what you can expect: an upside-down apple tart, the apples bathed in a gooey, sweet-scented caramel, the crust a flaky and browned plate of buttery crispness.

In many tarte Tatin recipes — including Julia Child's — the instructions recommend you precook the apples on the stovetop, as was originally done, before adding the pastry crust on top. Then you bake the tart another 20 or 30 minutes to brown the crust.

Not everyone agrees the effort is worth it.

And there is a simpler way. In her book The Grand Central Baking Book (co-written with Ellen Jackson), Piper Davis — the cuisine manager of Grand Central Baking Company in Portland and Seattle — includes a short essay about baking her first tarte Tatin years ago on her family’s farm.

Looking for a streamlined method to make the dessert, she whipped up an uncomplicated cinnamon-roll-style caramel in a skillet, added plenty of crisp cut-up apples, and topped it all with a rough puff pastry (a recipe for which is in the Grand Central book; another version is available from Martha Holmberg in her book, Puff).

Then Davis baked it for a full hour, like a regular pie, until the apples were baked through and the pastry a dark golden brown. As Davis family legend has it, that first simplified version was stunning.

When we ate a recent version of the tart, we had to agree; it was ethereal, a true taste of autumn.

But don’t take our word for it. Give it a try yourself, with Davis’ coaching:

Start with firm apples that will hold their shape when you bake them; here, Davis used Galas, but Honeycrisp or SweeTango would also be good choices. Estimate the number you’ll need by filling half the pan, and then add one or two more. Set them aside while you make the caramel.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a cast-iron or enameled skillet over medium heat.
Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar.
When the sugars melt and begin to bubble together, remove the pan from the heat, and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Now, peel and halve your apples; quarter any that are especially large.
Coring them takes a little practice.
Place the apples, flat side up, into the pan atop the caramelized sugar. You’ll want to press the apples in close together, and fill in any gaps with more chunks of apple.
Finally, slice enough apples to completely shingle slices over the halves.
Roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch thickness. Now, cut the dough in a round to fit over the apples (the pan lid works well for this). Here, Davis used Rough Puff Pastry, but she says you can also use an all-butter puff pastry (like the one Grand Central sells in their freezer case) or a sturdy pie dough.
Lay the crust over the pan, and fit it snugly around the apples, tucking the dough inside the pan.
Don’t bother scoring the crust. Bake the tart for 20 minutes in a preheated 375-degree oven, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake until nicely browned, another 30 or 40 minutes.
Your goal with this tart is a dark brown crust, Davis advises. There’s nothing worse than soggy pastry, she says.
Remove the pan from the oven, and within 5 or 10 minutes, place a platter over the top and carefully flip the pan to invert the whole thing. Again, take care when doing this, so as to avoid a burn from the hot caramel.
Spoon any caramel remaining in the pan over the tart.
Serve your tarte Tatin while it’s still warm. Davis recommends vanilla ice cream alongside; we concur.

Kim Carlson is the co-founder of Culinate.

There are 13 comments on this item
Add a comment
1. by anonymous on Sep 29, 2010 at 2:46 PM PDT

Kim, this looks amazing. I have a bunch of Honey Crisp and Cortland Pippins (or something like that...Dortland Pippins? whatever) just begging to be transformed. And to deal with the gluten-be-gone factor in this household, I think I’ll try using a crisp topping instead of pastry. The flipping step will be horribly messy, but what the heck.--Meg DesCamp

2. by Kim on Sep 29, 2010 at 4:12 PM PDT

Be careful, Meg! That caramel is hot. If you want to stick with the classic, and you’re up for the job, there’s a recipe for gluten-free Rough Puff Pastry, adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe, on the Gluten Free Girl's blog.

3. by anonymous on Oct 1, 2010 at 1:23 PM PDT

Yum! I’ve been looking for a fruity something to try out with my last 1/2(ish) cup of dark muscovado sugar (before I get a new bag of it, that is.) This looks just the ticket for an autumn treat. Thank you!

4. by fyfielda on Oct 3, 2010 at 5:48 PM PDT

This looks great and I’ll try it, but I really don’t think Julia Child’s recipe is that difficult; although I do like the idea of not as much cutting when it comes to apples!

5. by Jacqueline Church on Oct 3, 2010 at 9:30 PM PDT

Coring apples is easy with a melon baller!

6. by bachumbug on Oct 6, 2010 at 9:33 AM PDT

To anyone having a go at this, DO NOT remove the caramel sauce from the burner as instructed. In fact, prepare the apples before you even begin the sauce, and have the pastry topping rolled and ready beforehand. As soon as the sauce caramelizes, assemble the apples and crust and put it into the oven as quickly as possible. I had to start this recipe from scratch after my caramel completely locked up on me the first time around. :( Otherwise, it’s a fantastic recipe.

7. by KGardo on Oct 6, 2010 at 8:02 PM PDT

@bachumbug I’m afraid you threw out some perfectly good caramel! I just made this and took it off the burner, laying the apples on the solid surface. It remelts in the oven and comes out beautifully.

8. by Piper on Oct 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM PDT

I’m so sorry bachumbug, Kgardo is right, the sugars can seize but then mixture comes back to its gooey yummy self with heat and the moisture from the apples. Maybe calling it caramel is inaccurate? In fact, I think that is the benefit of cheating with the brown sugar, is that the molasses in the brown sugar keeps the sugar from getting to a brittle stage. Always learning how to write a better recipe. -Piper

9. by girard on Oct 16, 2010 at 6:06 PM PDT

I am a fan of French country cooking and am familiar with peach or apple cakes but am anxious to bring this to a little cottage that offers a wood stove and many hungry constructions workers. I am sure they will enjoy this autumn dish. I am writing a recipe book that follows seasonal harvest ingredients as well as preserving in traditional and modern ways. This would make a great November dessert. Thank you.

10. by Dayang Habsahton Abang Abdillah on Oct 17, 2010 at 11:20 PM PDT

Looks very simple and easy.
Better try this.

11. by vintagejenta on Oct 20, 2010 at 8:01 AM PDT

I think I will make this over the weekend, but leave off the crust! Mmmm... baked caramel apples....

12. by Deanna Rozeira on Oct 2, 2012 at 4:13 PM PDT

I don’t see why the traditional method is so daunting to everyone. Cooking the apples for a few minutes in the butter/sugar mixture on top of the stove, then adding the crust and baking makes all the difference in the world to the end result!

13. by paginas web on Oct 6, 2012 at 7:27 AM PDT

excelente muchas gracias por el post,esta muy esquisito

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [http://www.example.com "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer

Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice