Tattered Tarte Tatin – from Flop to Fabulous

The lady and the tart.  It began with a bunch of Pink Ladies. They looked so fine – I decided to put them to good use.

the apples (cut in quarters) are caramelizing
the ladies (cut in quarters) are caramelizing with the help of a turkey baster (not in recipe).

I like to challenge myself in general and many times it involves cooking.  When things get too comfortable I like to switch it up and expand my repertoire to make meals more unexpected and interesting. I love trying new things and just when I think I’ve tried them all I find another recipe to inspire me.

like this one
like this one

For desserts I have my standards that I know work out but pie crust pastry at the best of times is always challenging to get it just right especially if you prefer using butter over lard or Crisco (as per Martha Stewart and moi).

For Easter I made dinner for eight and decided to attempt a new dessert.  It was going to be elegant and impressive. According to the recipe it was supposed to be shockingly simple to make, and it was shocking all right but in a messy, hard to assemble kind of way.

in proper stages
Another Option: shown in stages with apples cut into slices & pre-packaged crust.

I should have realized this beforehand because anything that requires flipping over I usually end up flipping out over.  My omelettes usually turn out to be fancy looking scrambles (or scramblets as I like to call them).  They might taste good but they’re not your typical perfect looking omelette.  Still working on it.  My pan is usually to blame.   The lip is too deep or something like that.  But perhaps, just saying…maybe I’m not a natural born flipper. What made me think it would be different for an apple tart? This was a French Tarte Tatin (maybe I just liked the name) – a show-stopping dessert baked in a cast iron pan (I’m a big fan of cast iron like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Meet the Fockers). I liked the photo and the fact that you don’t have to par-bake the crust.  Traditionally it’s made with puff pastry but making puff pastry from scratch takes a long time.  Never say “should have” but – should have used puff.

when it came out of the oven
when it came out of the oven – not supposed to look perfect – only taste so.


dessert reconstructed - but delicious nonetheless (very important!)
dessert reconstructed – but delicious nonetheless (very important!) – apple pie in a bowl.

By some miracle I managed to turn this flop into a fabulous dessert with some quick thinking. No one even knew it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.  The original recipe is below (with some added comments) but here’s what happened.  At the start everything looked great and even taking it out of the oven it looked almost perfect and smelled amazing.  Should have left it in the pan. But no; had to flip it over onto a wood cutting board….that’s when it fell apart.  So instead of crying I was a big girl about it.  Scooped it into individual little round bowls that could be put back into the oven just before serving.  Topped with a scoop each French vanilla & whipped cream, a chocolate wafer on top...Pffff.  Everyone said it was delicious even the crust. And I forgot to drizzle dulce de leche over the ice cream.

Tarte Tatin

Makes *one 9-inch tart

*Ideally, but remember if it falls apart, you have another option.  Or, just serve it straight from the pan if you suspect it may fall apart. Let me know how it works out for you – but don’t tell me it worked out perfectly.


1 cup salted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes

2 cups all purpose flour

ice water


1/2 cup salted butter

3/4 cup white sugar (I recommend fine organic cane)

4 – 5 (I used 6) large baking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into quarters*

1/4 cup Calvados or Cognac (optional).  I didn’t have either so substituted with a little less over-proof rum (brought home from my Appleton Rum factory tour in Jamaica & still potent as ever).  This helps to caramelize the apples but you can try omitting it entirely.

Apples: Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, or Pink Lady are good options

First, make the pastry. On a clean, flat surface, combine the butter and flour, tossing the butter through the flour to coat on all sides. Using a rolling pin, roll the butter into thin strips, using a pastry scraper or the back of a large knife to lift any stuck bits from the surface or the rolling pin. Keep doing this until all the butter is in long strips.

Add a few tablespoons of water and then lift and fold the mixture using a pastry scraper or back of a knife. Continue adding water, a few tablespoons at a time, lifting and folding the mixture to incorporate each addition until the dough just starts to come together.

Use your hands to flatten the dough, then fold it over itself. Do this until the dough is a cohesive mass, but is still very pliable. You don’t want to overwork it.  Useful Tip:use parchment paper to help you.

On a well-floured surface roll the dough to the size of your cast iron pan. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate.

Next, assemble the tart. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium cast iron pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and sprinkle the sugar evenly over top. Place the apple quarters in concentric circles around the pan, flat side down. Pour the Calvados or Cognac over top, if using, and let the apples slowly caramelize. When the liquid around the apples turns medium brown, remove the pan from the heat. This should take about 20 minutes. Useful Tip: use a turkey baster to help baste liquid over apples.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on top of the apples. Immediately place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry has browned nicely.

Let it sit for at least 10 minutes (or up to 30), and then put a board or plate on top of the pan. Carefully flip the whole thing over; the tart should pop out quite easily (ha, ha). If an apple or two sticks to the pan, use a fork to put it in its rightful place.

Serve immediately, or wait a few hours (or even a day) and warm gently in the oven before serving.

Source: Claire Livia Lassam, Edible Magazine


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