A few years ago France finally embraced the FoodTV craze and began broadcasting shows like TopChef and MasterChef. Before that there was les Escapades de Petitrenaud (a seriously amusing show), a few cooking shows here and there and Un Dîner Presque Partfait on M6. The news of course included any – news – about food that was important, usually featuring a recipe or new trend a few times a week. Each year’s new publication of the Michelin Guide is anticipated like the Oscar picks. But that’s about it. There were no serious cooking competitions. Not like Iron Chef, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, TopChef, MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, TopChef Kids, TopChef Masters, TopChef Cat Edition: Menu Meow. Did I miss any?
I made that last one up.
But now, the cooking competitions are everywhere. With a bit of a twist. France would
never throw together bakers, pastry chefs and cooks or cuisiniers in the same show. No no. They are all three very different mediums. And thus, each gets it’s own competition. So while MasterChef only airs on Friday nights on TF1, Monday’s I can sit down to watch Le Meilleur Pâtissier Amateur de la France (translation: the Best Amateur Pastry Chef in France) on M6.
This might sound interesting, and at times it is. But mostly it’s watching a bunch of people watch things bake in an oven. Which, let’s face it, is half of what pastry is all about.
On the other hand, it’s probably the most deadly show ever to watch when you’re out of work and have nothing to do, because it starts giving you ideas. Ideas like “I should make 100 French macarons” or “I could really go for cookies,” or “That tarte tatin sounds so good right about now.”
And thus, despite telling my husband every day that I’m going on a diet, I found myself with a tarte tatin.
What is a tarte tatin?
It’s quite possible you’ve heard and/or seen one. If you haven’t don’t worry. It’s just apple pie.
However, it’s a bit more complicated than apple pie. For one thing, the French don’t put tops on their pies. I don’t know why, but they seem to think it’s weird and would never consider it. For another thing the crust isn’t sweetened (though it is buttery) and finally it’s covered in caramel and cooked upside down.
The last part causes more than a bit of stress for the baker/pastry chef. The point of a tarte tatin is to have a crust that is golden and crispy while the apples are at once, completely caramelized and melted with a very structured, perfectly circular, plateau-like presentation. But because it’s cooked upside down, you can’t actually get at the apples to check if they are done and that they’re cooking flat until you finish baking the pie and flip it over. You can try, like I did, but you’ll end up breaking and deforming the crust.
Or you can cheat, like I also did, and slice your apples super thin.
I have to say that for a first attempt at the tarte tatin, I’m pretty pleased. The drawback to slicing the apples as thin as I did that the pie became rather flat. It still tasted good and it looks like a tarte tatin is supposed to look – especially from the top – but it’s a bit thin. A good apple tarte should have a bit of height to it; from the crust, but mostly from the apples.
If you happen to be afraid of homemade caramel – if you happen to get distracted rolling out your crust and end up with a crunchy caramel – never fear. As long as you don’t burn it, it’s fine, because it all evens out in the baking.
There’s the added bonus of of gratification, a feeling of accomplishment when you flip it over and discover that you’ve succeeded. It’s like the reveal when you pull the cloche off of a fancy entrée. You can’t help but smile.
And then dig in.
Luckily, in a few weeks I won’t find myself in the position of nothing to do. In fact, I’ll probably never see the TV again, because I’ve been offered a job in Arles. This is good for my sanity, my wallet, and my waistline.
More about that sometime in the future.
- 150g all purpose flour
- 75g butter, in small pieces, room temperature
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp sugar (if you can’t live without it)
- 40 ml milk OR water*
- 3-4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, deseeded, sliced into chunks.
- 75-90g butter
- 100g sugar
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
- For the crust: In a mixing bowl add your flour and salt (and sugar), and using your fingers or a pastry cutter mix the butter into the flour until you get a crumbly mixture. You want the butter to be cut in as fine as possible, but don’t expect the dough to stick together. That’s what the milk or water is for. Mix those in now and knead for 2-3 minutes until you get a nice homogenous dough. Cover in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge until ready to use.
- Or you can roll it out right away, getting it ready for the tarte. You want it to be pretty thin, but not paper thin. Think omlet crust thinness – about ⅛ inch. The best way to roll out your crust is on a piece of wax paper. It makes the process of putting it over the apples so much easier later on.
- Get your apples ready to go, if you haven’t already. Set aside.
- In a frying pan melt the butter and sugar until you have a nice brown caramel. It’ll smell like a bakery. Using a wooden or rubber spatula mix then two to make sure the caramel is homogenous. Don’t worry if there are some lumps or brittle pieces, just make sure you don’t burn it.
- IF you’re using a cast iron pan that can go in the oven, simply lay your apple slices on top of the caramel in a pretty swirl. Then put some more on. If you’re using a pie tin or something different, pour the caramel in, be sure you don’t burn yourself in the process, and then line the pan with your apples.
- Place the uncooked pastry crust over the apples and tuck in the sides to it looks like a pie crust with nothing inside. Or a pie top I guess. Cut a tiny, tiny hole in the middle to let the air circulate through and bake 40-50 minutes until the crust is crispy and golden brown. When the tarte is very close to done, the caramel will start to appear, bubbling on the sides of the crust. If it looks like there is too much liquid, never fear. Very carefully, very gently and without breaking the crust, hold the tarte down and pour some of the liquid into the sink or trash.
- When done, remove from the oven and let cool and set for about 10 minutes. Then flip it over.
- Enjoy with ice cream. Or more caramel. Or pumpkin butter. Or coffee.