TasteFood by Lynda Balslev

Tarte Tatin Isn't Just for Apples

Shelter in place has given way to an abundance of bread baking. If you follow social media, you can’t miss the number of proud bread photos and sourdough sagas to admire and read. It makes sense. With all of our stay-at-home time, why not take the opportunity to develop and perfect our baking skills? I propose adding tarte tatins to that list.

Tarte what? Tarte tatin is a French upside-down fruit tart that could easily pass as the poster-child for a universally pleasing, caramelized dessert demanding to be shared. It traditionally features fall fruit, such as apple and pear, but I am here to tell you that those ingredients are not mandatory. In fact, any fruit that can be slow-cooked in butter and sugar without dissolving into a puddle will work. Stone fruits, such as plums, nectarines and apricots, are excellent contenders, which is why tarte tatins should be added to your summer to-do list.

The key to a successful tarte tatin, besides luscious in-season fruit, is the caramel, which is the base in which the fruit is cooked. A pastry crust is then layered over the bubbling, fruity confection, and the tart is finished in the oven. Once baked, the tart is inverted onto a plate, and the caramel becomes the top of the tart -- a shiny sheen encasing the fruit like fossilized amber.

Tarte tatins may appear tricky to make, but each step is straightforward. The biggest mistake you can make is not taking the time to allow the fruit to properly caramelize. It may be tempting to rush this step and hasten to the bake stage, but you will risk a runny topping that lacks in caramel color and flavor.

When making the caramel, remember these tips. As mentioned, heed the time. Be patient and vigilant, and allow the caramel to achieve its ideal color. This should take about 30 minutes, while you keep an eye on the bubbling sugar and butter, turning the pan to ensure even cooking. The ideal color should resemble golden-brown amber or the color of peanut butter. If it’s too light, the flavor will read sweet. If it’s too dark, you risk burning when the caramel continues to darken while the tart bakes. I find that the best pan in which to make the tart is metal. A cast-iron pan may be alluring and oh-so rustic to use, but it will be difficult to read the color of the caramel as it cooks. I prefer to use a stainless steel oven-proof skillet.

The final turn of the baked tart onto the plate is easier than it sounds. Make sure you are properly gloved up. Steady and center the skillet and the plate, and ... just flip it. If any bits remain in the pan, you can simply add them to the top of the tart. Detailed perfection is not necessary. This is a rustic tart. Fruit and caramel are forgiving, whether in pristine or cobbled-together desserts, and they always taste great. The good news is that once you’ve made a few of these tarts, you’ll get the hang of the technique. So go ahead and start practicing your tarte tatin baking skills. Your friends and family will appreciate your new project.

Apricot Tarte Tatin

Active Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus chilling time

Yield: Serves 8

Pastry:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced

1/3 cup full-fat sour cream

Filling:

2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks, room temperature

1 1/2 pounds medium apricots, halved and pitted

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 egg, lightly beaten

Prepare the pastry:

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor once or twice to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is pea-sized. Add the sour cream and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather the dough in a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Let soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.

Before preparing the filling, roll the dough out on parchment paper to a round shape to fit size of skillet. Slide the parchment and pastry onto a baking tray and refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the tart:

Whisk the 2 tablespoons sugar, cardamom and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

Arrange the butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet with sloping sides. Evenly sprinkle the 3/4 cup sugar over the skillet. Place over medium heat and cook until the butter melts, the sugar begins to dissolve, and the mixture begins to bubble, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully arrange the apricots, skin-side down, in a circular pattern in the skillet. Sprinkle the reserved sugar mixture and the lemon zest over the fruit.

Continue to cook the fruit over medium heat until a deep amber-colored syrup forms, 25 to 30 minutes, turning the skillet to ensure even cooking.

While the apricots are cooking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the caramel is the desired color, remove the skillet from the heat. Working quickly, lay the pastry over the apricots and peel away the parchment. (It’s OK if the pastry breaks or tears in places. You can piece it together once the parchment is discarded. Remember, it’s the bottom of the tart -- it needn’t look pristine.) Press the pastry around edges of the skillet. Cut 3 to 4 slits in the pastry and brush with the egg.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the pastry is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Remove the tarte from the oven. Let it stand for one minute, then run a knife around the edge of the tarte to help it release when inverted. Place a large heat-proof platter over skillet. Using oven mitts, hold the skillet and platter together and invert the tart onto the platter. If any bits stick to the pan, use a knife or spatula to remove and add to the tart. Cool for at least 30 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

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