Apple tarte tatin is a classic French dessert that tastes wonderfully indulgent, despite only a few ingredients. It's essentially a tart or pie cooked upside down with luscious caramel-coated, tender apples revealed when you flip it over. The result is oh so good.
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Apples are probably one of the most widely enjoyed fruits around the world. We're lucky to live near a number of orchards and apple picking has become a regular autumnal activity.
While we love them as they are, I've also made many recipes with apple over the years, from savory beet apple salad and apple and cheese Yorkshire pudding to sweet apple snack cake and caramel apple magic bars.
You'll also find many traditional apple recipes around the world and this French tart is a well-loved classic.
Apples in French cuisine
Apples are a popular crop in parts of France, particularly in the Northern Normandy and Brittany regions which are home to a large cider (hard cider) industry. Some are also made into calvados (apple brandy) as well as used in various recipes like tarts and cake.
Tarte aux Pommes is probably the most classic French apple tart, which starts with a pastry base covered in a layer of frangipane (almond cream). You then top this with a layer of apple slices and glaze them with apricot jam. Tarte Normande has some similarities but instead the apple slices are set in a custard.
This tart, meanwhile, is cooked upside down, with the pastry over apples cooked in caramel.
What are the origins of Tarte Tatin?
While the origins of the name are relatively well-known, the same can't be said for the tart itself. The tart is named after the Tatin sisters who ran a hotel in the Sologne region in central France.
The story goes that one of the sisters created this tart trying to correct a mistake but it turned into a huge success with guests, many of whom were wealthy Parisian visitors. However, other reports say this is all just a myth. Instead, upside-down apple tarts have a much older history, though likely this is at least still from the same region.
Either way, it is fair to give the sisters credit with popularizing this dish, especially once a famous Parisian critic recommended their tart in the 1920s. Now, it is well-loved around the world.
While in other parts of the world tarte tatin might is a popular restaurant dessert, that is less the case in France. Instead, other more composed tarts are what you might find in patisseries and this is more something people make at home.
For something so simple, you'll find a surprising number of variations. It might just be apples, caramel and pastry, but each of those can vary, as can how you prepare and put everything together.
There doesn't appear to be a 'right' way, like many traditional recipes. It's more about what you learnt, prefer and what you find works best. There's also an element of tastes changing.
For example almost all modern versions peel the apples, but apparently that wasn't always the case. Most American takes on the tart use puff pastry, but many others use shortcrust pastry or pâte brisée (a lighter, more buttery version).
You'll find slight differences in the caramel as well. Some start with sugar then add butter, others add both together. Some use a little water, but most don't. Then some partially cook the apples in the caramel before adding the pastry while others skip this.
What I have gone with below allows for your own preference in pastry, but also tries to make the caramel and apple the most consistent and easy. To me, cooking the apples in the caramel first helps ensure they are nicely tender plus allows them to shrink slightly before you put the tart together. This helps give a good coverage in the end tart.
What type of apple is best?
You'll see lots of debate in which variety to use. Some is up to your flavor preference, but the main thing is to use fresh, firm apples so that they don't fall apart during cooking. Dessert/eating apples rather than cooking apples hold their shape better. Honeycrisp, Cox, Gala or Braeburn should all work well, with slightly different flavor profiles.
Some recipes suggest mixing in some Granny Smith to balance out the sweetness a little more, but others suggested they were more likely to become over-soft. I've yet to test them in this recipe, but they may also work in part or full.
A classic apple tarte tatin is such a wonderfully delicious dessert. Despite so few ingredients, it's more than just a simple apple tart. The caramel, apple and pastry are instead transformed into something special. No wonder it is so widely loved.
Try these other autumnal desserts:
- Pear clafoutis
- Tikvenik (Bulgarian pumpkin strudel)
- Apple crepes
- French pear cake
- Plus get more French recipes and fall recipes in the archives.
I made this in my Lodge 8in cast iron skillet which worked well.
Apple tarte tatin
- 6 oz puff pastry 170g, approx - most of 1 sheet or a 8-9in (20-23cm) shortcrust pastry round
- 4 apples
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice approx
- ¼ cup unsalted butter 55g
- ½ cup sugar 100g
- Gently roll out the puff pastry slightly to around ⅛in thick. Turn an 8in cast iron skillet upside down and place it on top of the pastry so that it has pastry all underneath it. Cut a circle of pastry just slightly larger than the size of the skillet. Lift off the skillet and set aside. Transfer the round of pastry to a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet or plate and place in the refrigerator until needed later.
- Peel the apples and cut into quarters. Remove the stem from each piece. Place the apple pieces in a bowl and squeeze a little lemon juice on each piece as it is ready to help stop them going too brown. Repeat with the rest of the apples.
- Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.
- Cut the butter into cubes and place the butter and sugar in the skillet you used earlier. Warm them together over a medium heat, stirring almost constantly, so that the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Don't worry if they seem to separate, they should come together shortly after.
- Once the sugar has melted and the mixture is starting to caramelize, add the apple slices (if you can, wipe them dry before adding). The skillet may seem overly full, so you can hold back a couple slices at first and add them as the apples start to shrink a little.
- Cook the apples in the caramel mixture, turning regularly so that they both get coated in the mixture and start to soften. Keep cooking for around 10 minutes until they are becoming relatively tender when tested with a knife but not mushy. Remove the apple slices and set them aside on a plate then increase the heat under the skillet to reduce the caramel a little (it will likely have become a bit more liquid with the juices from the apple). Stir it regularly then once the mixture has thickened, after a couple minutes, remove from the heat.
- Off the heat, add back the apple slices, the outside rounded side down in the caramel. Note the caramel will be hot so avoid touching it. Try to arrange the apple slices in a circle around the outside, just slightly overlapping the slices. Then, use additional pieces of apple in the middle to fill the inner area.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge and carefully place the circle of pastry over the apples as centered as you can. Tuck the extra pieces of pastry in around the edges of the apple down inside the skillet then prick the top of the pastry either in a couple points towards the middle or a few dotted around. This is to help steam escape as it cooks.
- Place the skillet into the oven and bake for approximately 30 - 40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for around 5 - 10 minutes.
- Then slide a knife around the edge to ensure it is loosened. Use a plate that is at least the size of the top of the skillet and place it on top of the skillet, top side down, then carefully pick up the skillet and plate together and, still holding the plate on top, flip the skillet over so that the pastry goes onto the plate with the apples on top. You may have some caramel left in the skillet - scoop it out and drizzle over the apples. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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I first shared this Tarte Tatin (French Apple Tart) recipe on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.