The first time I made pear tarte Tatin I was really cautious about the sugar caramelising as I’ve always thought it is easy to burn sugar. Now when I make tarte Tatin I let that the sugar crystallise baby! There is a very clear point where the sugar starts to turn to caramel, it’s very obvious. The sugar forms little clumps and right before your eyes turns to a gooey caramel-coloured delight. Whoever came up with this idea is a Godsend.
Looking back at that first pear tarte Tatin I realise the colour wasn’t quite right, it was too pale. The top of the tart should be golden in colour, it should look sticky, as if the caramel will stretch between your fingers when you prod it (by the way, don’t ever touch hot caramelised sugar, it is hotter than hot!). So now after making tarte Tatin about 40 times (okay, maybe half a dozen), I think I have the caramelising process downpat.
The trick is, in my experience, to first keep the sugar swirling in the pan over medium heat. Then when you add the butter you let the butter and sugar bubble away until it turns nice and golden. Throw in the apples (or pear or banana – I’ve made all three versions) and let the fruit cook in the caramel until soft, about 15 minutes. I haven’t burnt one yet.
I am still surprised at how easy this gorgeous dish is. I have seen tarte Tatin recipes that call for liqueur to be added, I think this sounds divine but I am yet to try it. My recipe is super simple. Make sure to add the spices as they truly add to the caramelised fruit flavour perfectly. Top with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or crème anglaise if you like, but make sure you eat the tarte warm. It’s the perfect dessert for a cold winters night.
Ingredients (serves 8):
5 granny smith apples, cored, peeled and halved
100g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
1 star anise
1 cardamom pod
2 sheets of puff pastry
Preheat oven to 190oC.
Scatter sugar over the base of a 20cm cast-iron ovenproof frying pan and place on medium heat. Toss the pan as the sugar starts to caramelise, swirling the sugar to ensure it caramelises evenly. Add butter, cinnamon, vanilla bean, star anise and cardamom and continue to swirl the pan as the caramel starts to foam up. The sugar should caramelise to a toffee colour.
Lay the apple halves in the pan and cook in the sauce for about 15 minutes. The sauce will bubble but won’t burn, swirl sauce in the pan occasionally. Once apples have caramelised to a nice golden colour, remove pan from heat.
Cut pastry sheets to make a circle slightly bigger than the pan. Once the apples have slightly cooled, position them in the pan in a decorative pattern, flat sides up so that when you invert the tart the rounded sides will be on top. Drape pastry sheet over the top of the pan, covering the apples. Gently tuck the edges of the pastry down the inside of the pan and under the apples, I use a big plastic spoon to ensure the pastry tucks right under.
Pierce the pastry a few times with a fork, then place pan in oven and bake for approx. 25-30 minutes. Once the pastry is crisp and puffy and cooked to golden perfection, remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Gently invert onto a plate, be super careful as the pan handle will be scorching hot as will the caramel which may ooze out when inverted.