I wasn’t a big fan of apples as a kid, which doesn’t seem very kid-like now. No applesauce, no apple juice, no way. To be honest I never really grew out of it. Outside of fresh apples, which I like, I don’t normally eat apple desserts. But I’ve fallen in love with apple tatin and back in love with making it. It’s a very traditional pastry and one I’ve made almost too many times but never ate much (like crème brulee – forever ruined for me). We had some really great apples this fall and it inspired me to start making tatin again. I’ve changed my method for making it and I don’t know if it’s that or the apples or a new set of taste buds I’ve developed but I’m loving this tart tatin. I even decided to put a version of the dessert on our restaurant menu. Now we’re going to make it at home!
The recipe is almost unbelievably simple. A little dough, some apples and a bit of caramel. But like all things pastry there’s nuance in everything. Obviously the variety of apple is a big choice. I like Braeburn apples for their flavor and great texture when baked. You could use Granny Smith too, another great baking apple, if you want a little more acidity in the finished product.
The vessel you choose to bake in is another important choice. At work we bake a large sheet pan of tatin for the high yield, but at home I almost always bake in an iron skillet. If you wanted to try out the tatin in a sheet pan, you’ll cut the apples a little differently than we’re about to do (more like how I cut them for my apple pie) and then layer them down the sheet pan like shingles.
Be sure not to thicken and color the caramel too deeply before adding it to your apples to bake. The apples need time to fully cook through, turning almost creamy in texture, and a caramel can quickly darken beyond what is tasty before the apples are done. I stop my caramel mixture before it’s really caramel at all, just as I see the faintest hint of thickening and caramel color. Low and slow is the way to bake this tatin, developing the caramel slowly as the apples turn to pudding. So good.
The dough I use for this dish (which happens to be my favorite dough of all doughs) is pate a foncer. It has the tenderness of a pie dough but with a tighter flake that makes it easier to work with and eat. I have the recipe and method in the recipe card below, but if you like pretty pictures, you can see the step by step of the dough in my post on fruit tarts.
6 braeburn apples
120g butter unsalted
Roll the pate a foncer out to about 1/4“ thick, making sure it is larger than the diameter of the baking vessel you’re going to use.
Put the dough, uncovered, onto a sheet pan to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30min.
Process your apples by peeling them, cutting them in half, cutting away the core and then cutting the apples in half again, giving you 8 hearty slices per apple.
I keep the apples in a mixture of lemon juice and water to keep them from oxidizing while I’m working. Arrange the apples in the bottom of your cooking pan. There are a lot of different ways to do this. When I use a cast iron skillet, I like to first create a fan of apples.
Lay a second fan over the first, placing the apples in between the first layer of slices. As they bake, they’ll fall into the cracks left by the shrinking first layer of apple.
To make your caramel mixture, simply combine the sugar, water and vanilla and bring it to a boil. Continue to cook the syrup (don’t whisk or stir it while it’s boiling) until it thickens and just begins to caramelize.
Add the butter and whisk well to incorporate it all.
Pour the syrup as evenly as you can over the apples.
Place the skillet in the oven at 375F/190C for 20 to 30min. or until the syrup starts to thicken and bubble and the tops of the apples take on just the slightest hint of color.
Dock the dough and place it over the apples, quickly trimming the excess dough but still leaving the disk a little larger than the skillet. The dough will shrink slightly during baking becoming just the right size.
Continue to bake the tatin at 375F/190C for 20 to 30min, until the pate a foncer takes on a medium golden color. You’ll see baking liquid bubbling up but it will be thin and light in color with rapid bubbling which tells you it hasn’t caramelized. Place tin foil over the top of the tatin, leaving a hole in the center for steam to escape.
Continue to cook the tatin until the syrup thickens to a medium amber caramel and the crust is deep golden brown. This may take anywhere from 30min to an hour depending on your oven. Check often.
Remove the tatin from the oven and let it cool slightly, about 2min.
Place a serving dish or sheet pan (in this case a cooling rack and then a sheet pan) upside down on top of the tatin and then with one hand holding the pan or dish to the skillet and the other hand holding the skillet (by the handle) invert the skillet over onto the sheet pan with even pressure and one swift fluid motion. Don’t forget the skillet is hot!!
Carefully remove the skillet to allow the tatin to continue to cool, now sitting apples-up and looking glorious AF.