This is the dessert I made for our New Year’s Eve dinner.
We had decided to have a luxurious picnic rather than an elaborate meal, so we had toasts of foie gras (brought back from our vacation in the Périgord), a fruity duck magret salad whipped up by our neighbor Stéphan, and some Coquilles St-Jacques, lovingly hand-opened by Maxence and myself, simply sauteed and served with matchstick raw veggies (black radish, carrot and zucchini). In passing, this brilliant accompaniment idea gave me my first mandolin-induced injury, and allowed my friends to rise up to the occasion and finish the vegetable cutting while I watched from the safety of a bar stool, slightly queasy and hugging my bandaged thumb.
It would have been very much out of character for us if we hadn’t had a little cheese, too — after the usual ceremonial of “oh no I couldn’t possibly”, closely followed by “if you have some I might join you for just a teeny slice”, ending up in the final “oh boy this is so good, you have to try that Brie de Melun!” and “is there any more bread?”.
For dessert, I was going to make a pineapple tarte tatin, but when I told Maxence he paused, cleared his throat and asked in his most diplomatic tone if I could maybe just make a regular apple one? Pretty please? He is a strong believer that some things just can’t be improved upon and that there is usually a reason for classics to be classics.
I was hesitant because I had already made a classic tarte tatin for new year’s eve two years ago and could I still look at myself in the mirror if I repeated the same recipe on the same occasion and for the same guests? But I figured I was probably the only one who remembered, and if anyone else did, it was probably that they had liked the tarte tatin in the first place, no?
So I went with Maxence’s wish (a good omen for 2005, he probably reflected) and took out my little notebook in which I preciously hold my mother’s recipe, as dictated to me a while back. I chose to use salted butter in the caramel that coats the pan, and this lent a wonderful caramel au beurre salé flavor to the warm, soft apples and the crispy tender crust. Mmm… Maxence sure has a point.
And um, did I mention we had a fabulous chocolate cake made by Ludo to go with that? Ahem. An auspicious start to the year, indeed.
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- For the dough:
- 170 grams (1 1/3 cups) flour
- 85 grams (1/3 cup) sugar (I use an unrefined blond cane sugar)
- 85 grams (3 ounces) semi-salted butter, chilled (if you use unsalted, add a good pinch of salt)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
- For the caramel:
- 70 grams (1/4 cup) white sugar (the unrefined type does not caramelize well)
- 35 grams (1 1/4 ounces) semi-salted butter, diced (if you use unsalted, add a good pinch of salt)
- For the fruit:
- 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) apples, of a variety that keeps its shape when cooked
- Prepare the dough. In a medium mixing-bowl, combine the sugar and butter with a fork. Add in the flour, and keep mixing with the fork. When the dough forms even crumbs, add in a dash of milk, and knead the dough with your hands to form a ball. If the dough does not come together after about a few seconds, add in a tad more milk and knead again. The idea is to add the milk little by little to stop at just the right dough consistency (if you've added too much and the dough gets impossibly sticky, compensate with flour). Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
- Butter the sides of a 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan.
- Prepare the caramel. Put the sugar with a tablespoon of water in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place over medium-low heat. Once the sugar is melted and starts to boil, let it cook for a few minutes, until it caramelizes and turns amber. Remove from the heat, add in the butter and stir to form a paste. Pour this paste in the cake pan, and use the back of a spoon to spread it over the bottom. It's okay if the bottom is not entirely covered, but try to make it as even as you can. Set aside. (Note: if your pan can be used on the stove, you can make the caramel directly in it.)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F).
- Peel and cut the apples in fourth or eighth, depending on their size. Arrange the apple pieces prettily over the caramel in the pan.
- Take the ball of dough out from the fridge and let it rest for a few minutes on the counter so it's not too cold (or it will crack when you try to roll it out). Lightly flour a clean work surface, and use a rolling pin to roll the dough in a circle that's slightly larger than the pan.
- Transfer the dough over the apples, and tuck it in all around. Prick the dough in a few places with a fork.
- Put into the oven to bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the dough turns golden and your home is filled with wonderful caramely apple fumes.
- Take the pan out of the oven, run a knife around the sides of the pan and flip onto a serving dish. If one or two apple chunks are stuck to the bottom of the pan, just scrape them off and put them back on the tart where they belong.
- Serve warm (not piping hot) on its own, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of crème fraîche/sour cream/yogurt.
This post was first published in January 2005 and updated in July 2016.