Classic Tarte Tatin

Making this classic dessert is the easiest way to make people think you got a Cordon Bleu pastry certificate last summer when you needed a hobby and a constant supply of air conditioning. Especially if you buy the all-butter puff pastry that's frozen and pre-rolled at the supermarket (which I highly recommend you do). Less complicated and less messy to prep than a cake, it's a mere matter of slicing raw apples, a zen moment of layering the apple slices in a swirl and letting the oven do the rest to produce luscious, butter-braised apples on a shattering crust. In the time I took to write that word dribble, you could be halfway done with your tatin. So get to it!

Tarte Tatin (adapted* from a classic recipe by Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

Serves 8

  • 1.3 kg crisp and sweet apples (about 5 large)
  • 50g white sugar (poured into a small bowl)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp softened butter
  • Round cake pan 23-25cm in diameter and ~5cm deep
  • 60g white sugar (poured into a second small bowl)
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt (poured into a small ramekin, espresso cup or Japanese saké cup)
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 sheets of frozen pre-rolled puff pastry, defrosted and kept chilled in the fridge (each sheet about 3mm thick)
  • 30g dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp almond slices, toasted
  • Vanilla ice cream, to serve
  1. Slice the apples: peel the skin, cut lengthwise into quarters, remove the stems and cores, then slice into thin wedges about 3mm thick, adding the slices to a large salad bowl. In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon with the 50g sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the apples and gently toss by hand to combine.
  2. Coat the baking dish with the softened butter, then sprinkle 1/3 of the second bowl of sugar evenly in the bottom of the cake pan. Spread out the dried cranberry pieces over the sugar layer, then arrange one layer of the apple slices over the bottom, making sure to overlap the apple slices (the cranberries will make the apple slices wobble a bit unevenly over the surface but don't worry, just continue to overlap the apple slices over eachother in a circular direction).
  3. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon more of sugar evenly over the top of the first layer of apples, a pinch of your salt, then use a spoon to drizzle 1 Tablespoon the melted salted butter over the apples as well. Repeat this layering with the remaining apples, sugar, salt and melted butter. Sprinkle any remaining sugar over the apples.
  4. Preheat oven to 190*C. Layer the two puff pastry sheets on top of each other, then cut a circle the same size as the outside edge of your cake pan. Lay the puff pastry over the top of the apples and gently press the overhanging parts into the pan. Use a small knife to pierce about 10 holes evenly throughout the pastry, so that steam can escape and the pastry will puff up higher.
  5. Place the cake pan in the oven on a rack on the lower third shelf of the oven, then bake for about 50 minutes. If the pastry seems to be getting too dark towards the end, cover it lightly with a piece of aluminum foil.
  6. When the timer is up, remove the tart from the oven and place on your kitchen top. Flip your serving plate onto the top of the pastry, and using your oven gloves, quickly and gently invert the whole thing. The cake pan should be easy to lift off the plate and you will have your apples facing up with the crisp pastry underneath. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately; or, prepare this before your guests arrive, then re-heat in the oven, on the serving plate, at 180*C for 10 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream (or crème fraîche, or crème Chantilly -- sweetened whipped cream).

*I used a lot less sugar than Julia did; not only do Chinese friends dislike overly sweet desserts, but it truly doesn't more sugar than I specify here (especially if you add the amount of salt I state here, which cuts the sweetness and makes this tart very addictive).