Zen and the Tarte Tatin (Pie #3)

I fell in love with Tarte Tatin when my friend Micha came to visit from Paris. He stayed at my apartment and insisted on making one in my tiny, galley kitchen (the things we put up with in New York).  Without a recipe in sight he caramelized some sugar, tossed in a couple of apples and wowed all of my friends with his je ne sais quoi. Then, with a glass of wine in one hand, he tucked some puff pastry over the concoction and slid it in the oven. Like just about everything the French do he made it look effortless. When I took a stab…not so much.

Ever since I got into the pie scene I’ve wanted to tackle the Tarte Tatin. “It’s so easy, no fussing with the crust,” I thought. “And it’s so elegant.” But, of course, I over analyze EVERYTHING and had to research a million different Tarte Tatins. There’s the two pan method, the single $210 pan, the debate over puff pastry vs pastry crust and, of course, various opinions on how to cut your apples: halves, quarters or smaller. I had to decide which way I was going to go. I chose wrong.

After dozens of recipes and techniques I decided to go with my an all butter pie crust (Pate Brisee, if you will) and apples cut into eighths. I also opted to use my cast iron skillet, because she’s awesome. She? Yes, my cast iron skillet is a woman. Her name is Annette, because sometimes she’s an Ann, an all-American frontierswoman fryin’ up some bacon, and sometimes she’s Annette (say it with a French accent), a fashionable French woman who turns out a killer Tarte Tatin. She’s versatile like that.

I decided to follow the technique championed by Cooks Illustrated, since their methods are usually fail-safe. I’d link to it, but they’ve got paywall (it’s worth it). Basically you make a caramel out of butter and sugar, then stand the apple bits skinny end down. Once you flip them over the should, theoretically, fit snugly in the pan. Mine didn’t. To add insult to injury Annette got much hotter on one side than the other, resulting in this:

Harlequin Caramel

Why is one half of the caramel burnt?

And it only got worse when I flipped the apples over:

Ugg

Some were untouched and others were scalded.

So I threw on my delicious, delicious crust, tossed that sucker into a hot oven and hoped for the best. The best is not what I got:

Not the prettiest pie in the world.

That nitrous canister is for my whip creamer, I swear.

It looked much better close up, although a bit burnt.

It tasted…well, a bit burnt. We’ll describe it as “a tasty disappointment”.  The one part that rocked? My crust.

I make a killer crust.

I may have spent the next couple of days eating my way around those burnt apples. Next time I try to tackle the Tatin I’m gonna stick with the pastry crust and leave the puffed stuff to the enchanting Frenchman. Hopefully Micha will come back soon to teach me and Ann how to wrangle some caramel.

And you know what? Julia Child messed up her Tarte Tatin on TV! I just messed mine up on this silly blog.

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