I come from a family of apple pie makers. I wrote about my mother's legendary apple pie for the LA Times some years ago (here is the link). For some reason, I didn't inherit the pie genes. My pies are okay but I have yet to taste one that blew my mind. I need more practice. On the other hand, I have taught myself to make a pretty good tart tatin. I got introduced to this dessert in France. You can always find it in a bistro and it is a popular dessert for home cooks. I have made it so many times. It helps to have one dessert recipe that you can brag about.
Everyone loves the caramalized flavor of the apples in this dish. The apples are borderline burnt. I have seen severely burnt tart tatins in French bistros. I like them on the verge of burnt but not black because it tastes like charcoal and looks like a mistake. It probably is. In fact, legend goes that this tart was invented from a mistake but the restaurant (they are a few that claim they were the first to invent this dish) served it anyway, people loved it and it became history. I find caramelized apples have better flavor than apples in pies. I dislike apples that are coated with excessive amounts of cornstarch and spice, which is often the case with apple pies. Tart Tatin, on the other hand, is made with apples cooked in butter and sugar. That's all.
The crust of a tart tatin can vary. I make a cookie dough. There is always more than enough cookie dough so I make cookies with the leftovers. That's my favorite part. This year, I made a small tart tatin, using my 6 1/2 iinch cast iron pan. I was still able to pack seven apples. This will feed about four people. When making dough, I do every thing by hand. Two knives and a rolling pin are my only tools. I cut the butter into the flour. The dough rests in the fridge for at least an hour to overnight. It also freezes well, so I can make it in advance.
The apples take about 25 minutes to caramelize. Stay near the pan while you are cooking the apples. You may have to adjust the temperature. I flip each apple once to cook the other side. This is the trickest part because if you have mushy apples, they won't flip. They fall apart. That's why you want to use firm apples like pipin. Granny smith is good but not always reliable when it comes to the mushy test. Golden delicious is the other firm apple but I like the flavor of pipin better.
I leave small chunks of butter in the dough and try not to mix toomuch. This way gets me closer to my mother's flaky pie crust . You don't see the finished crust in the picture below because I turned the pan upside down while it was still warm. Sorry. But that's what you have to do. This way, the tart doesn't stick to the pan. Don't forget to run a knife around the pan so the apples don't stick to the side. The tart tatin came out very nice.
To make the cookie dough. Sift together flour, powder sugar, and salt into a bowl. Use a knife or pastry cutter to work butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in egg yolk. Assemble the flour mixture into a round ball. Then flatten it into a disc. Wrap disk in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.
To make the apples, peel, core and quarter apples. Melt butter in a 61/2- inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and the sugar and mix evenly and let the butter melt completely. Remove from heat.
Tightly pack apple wedges around inside edges of skillet. Make concentric circles, the larger circle surrounding the smaller circle. The inner circle will be made up of three or four wedges. Set aside 3-4 apple wedges for later use.
Return the skillet to the heat and cook the apples over medium heat until butter and suagr carmelize to a rich brown, about 15 minutes. The apples will shrink as they cook. Use the leftover apple wedges and fill in the gaps.
Carefully turn the apples once to cook the other side. Use a fork to turn the apples. Try to keep the concentric shape. Cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat. You can do up to this step earlier in the day.
When you are ready to bake that tart tatin, pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into 6 1/2" inch circle, about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut out the circle so that it fits the top of the 6 inch skillet.
Bake in oven until the pastry is golden, 25-30 minutes. Allow tart to cool for 10 minutes, then loosen edges with a knife. Place a plate on top of skillet and invert quickly. Serve warm with whipped cream or plain.