Be Merry Golden and Delicious

It's peak apple season and the perfect time to serve up a delicious, warm tarte tatin.

Apple tarte tatin is an all-time French classic. It is an apple cake in which the apples are cooked first in caramel and butter, and then baked under a covering of crispy dough. Once the cake is baked, it is turned upside down, so the dough covering can absorb the caramel juices. The cake is served warm, so it naturally calls for eating on cold days. Moreover, it is peak apple season now, so the result will be especially tasty.

Tarte tatin is named after the sisters Caroline and Stephanie, who served it for years at the restaurant and hotel they ran in Lamotte-Beuvron, a little village in the Sologne region, at the beginning of the 20th century. There is no choice but to debunk the myth that the unique tart came into being by accident, after the cake fell onto the sisters' kitchen floor. In point of fact, rumor of the duo's cake took wing and even reached the chef of Maxim's restaurant in Paris. He ate at the little restaurant, decided to add the tart to Maxim's menu and to name it after the sisters. Since then the cake has been served at the famous Paris establishment.

Apple tarte tatin - Limor Laniado Tiroche - 01122011
Apple tarte tatinLimor Laniado Tiroche

The secret to this tart seems to reside in two main elements: its beauty and its taste. Many, myself included, think it the most beautiful and tempting cake among the French classics. Its special taste is based on a winning combination of apples, bittersweet caramel, and flaky and thin dough.

Generally, the fear of burning caramel is what deters many home bakers from making this cake. Making successful caramel is not a complicated task, particularly if you understand the process and follow its rules. Caramel forms when sugar is heated until it liquefies. Once the sugar reaches a temperature of 150 degrees Celsius, the liquefied sugar gradually changes color to a light brown and then slowly to a darker brown. Its degree of sweetness also changes gradually, and takes on a more bitter layer during the heating. When making caramel, it is important to refrain completely from stirring the contents of the pan, because a spoon will immediately cool down the liquid and the sugar will crystallize around it. The most efficient way to mix the contents of the pan is to shake it from side to side. To prevent the sugar from burning, cubes of butter are added to the pan the moment the sugar darkens into a deep, milk-chocolate brown.

After melting the butter in the caramel, you add peeled apple halves to the pan, placed close together. The apples will exude liquid into the caramel, thereby stopping completely the caramelizing process. The recommended variety of apples is Golden Delicious (greenish-yellow with little brown dots ). This variety is moderately sweet, and the amount of liquid it contains is suitable for baking. It is important to choose fresh apples, as hard and small as possible.

Once the cake has baked, let it cool for 10 minutes and then place a plate on top and turn the whole thing over quickly (wearing oven gloves, since the pan will still be boiling hot ). It is important to use a plate that is larger than the pan and slightly concave so that it can hold all the liquid from the cake. If you are not planning to serve the cake immediately, you will need to soak up the liquid with a paper towel to keep it from making the dough soggy. I like to serve the cake on its own, but some people serve it with a scoop of ice cream on the side, a little creme fraiche, or vanilla sauce.

Apple tarte tatin Ingredients:


200 grams sifted flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

100 grams very cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 beaten egg

2 tablespoons ice water


200 grams (1 cup ) white sugar

70 grams room-temperature butter, cut into big cubes

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick

12-14 small Golden Delicious apples, peeled


In a food processor with a metal blade, pulse the flour, salt, powdered sugar and butter cubes for 30 seconds. Pulsing all the while, add the beaten egg, and then immediately slowly add two tablespoons of water, until the dough comes together into a ball. Put the dough in a plastic bag or lay it down on cling wrap. Flatten into a round disc, wrap well, and chill for two hours or more (refrigerated dough keeps fresh for up to two days ).

Remove the apple cores (an apple corer is the most convenient way ) and slice in half lengthwise.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

In an oven-safe, heavy-bottomed frying pan, 26 centimeters in diameter, melt the sugar over a medium fire until it turns into dark caramel. The caramelizing process takes between four and seven minutes (depending on the quality of the frying pan ). Refrain from stirring with a spoon. Instead, give the pan a shake from time to time.

When the sugar turns a dark brown, carefully (caramel is boiling hot ) add one butter cube after another . Give the pan a shake. Sprinkle with powdered cinnamon or put a cinnamon stick in the middle of the pan. Arrange the apple halves over the caramel in close concentric circles, so they are standing behind one another. Cook for 15 minutes over a medium fire and then turn the heat off.

At this stage you need to check that the remaining liquid reaches only about a third of the way up the pan. If there is more liquid (which happens when the apples exude a lot of liquid ), continue cooking for another few minutes to reduce the liquid.

Quickly roll the dough out on a floured surface to a circle about two centimeters larger than the pan. Roll the dough around your rolling pin, remove any excess flour, and quickly unroll on top of the apples. Tuck in the edges, and use a fork to poke holes in the dough. Bake for 30 minutes.

About 10 minutes after the cake comes out of the oven, place a serving dish on top, hold the plate and the pan together tightly and quickly flip over. Serve warm the same day.