This traditional French apple dessert reminds me of the caramel apples we get when we visit the orchard, just in a more elegant presentation. It really isn’t that indulgent a dessert, filled with mostly fresh apples with some buttery pastry to go with each bite. You do see this on the dessert menu as some nicer restaurants, but I don’t see it as often as I like…so I learned to make it myself.
2 tablespoons Sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter – cold, cut into pieces
1 egg yolk
1-tablespoon ice water (if needed for dough)
¾ cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, but into pieces
8 Cortland apples (or other), peeled, cored, and cut into a mix of quarters and thirds.
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Metal Sauce Pan or Saucepot (I use my copper pot)
Enamel covered cast-iron skillet (I use Staub) or Le Creuset
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt with butter. Add egg yolk. Work the butter into the flour and egg mixture with a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers. Break up the butter into pea-size pieces and mix with the flour. Gather the dough into a ball. If the dough doesn’t stay together, add some ice water a tablespoon at a time until it forms a ball. You don’t want too little moisture because the ball of dough will not stay together. If you have too much the dough will become too sticky and will not be as flaky when finished. Don’t handle the dough too much because the warmth of your hands will start to melt the butter. Once you have a ball of dough, pat it down with your hands and start forming it into a disc around 8” in width (so still pretty thick). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes – 2 hours.
While the dough is chilling again, prepare your apples. I like to use Cortland apples because they have the right amount of sweetness and soften nicely when baked. I core my apples with an apple corer because it makes it go faster. I then peel the skin off of the apples and but them into quarters and third size pieces.
Now we make the caramel. Place an 8”-10” saucepot (saucepan) on the stove and heat to medium. I like to use my copper pot for this because it heats so evenly. Use the best pot you have. Nonstick is not the best choice because we are going to use a lot of heat. Add a little less than a quarter cup of water to the pan and then add the sugar. Don’t use a spoon to stir, instead swirl the pan to incorporate sugar into the water. Watch the caramel carefully because after about 8-10 minutes you will see it turn from a clear liquid to the appearance of brown spots. Swirl your pan again, and watch as the entire liquid gets some brown color. Remove from heat and add your butter and melt, swirling again to incorporate into the caramel. Place your pan back on the heat, and add your apples. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. You want the apples to start to get a little soft. When they are done remove from the heat and have an enamel-covered 12” fry pan ready. Arrange the apples neatly in a circular pattern around the pan, trying to coat the entire bottom surface with the apple. Pour the remaining caramel over the apples.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a floured work surface. Roll out the dough so that it’s the width of the top of your apples in the frying pan. Place the rolled dough over the top of the apples and poke a few holes in the dough with a sharp knife. Tuck any extra dough down into the frying pan.
Place in a 400-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes check the oven and make sure the top dough is golden brown and the caramel is bubbling up from the edges. Remove from the oven and let rest about 30 minutes. The caramel is very hot at this point and as it cools down it will be thicker and stay on top of the tart when you flip it. After it cools, use a knife to run around the edge of the skillet. Find a large plate or platter that is larger than the top of our skillet, and place it on top of the pan. Flip it upside down so that the crust is on the bottom and the apple is on top. You may need to tap it with your knuckles a little if it doesn’t fall right out. Once it comes out, if there are a few apples left in the pan, just take them out and add them back into the tart. If you’re having trouble getting your tart to fall out of the skillet, place the skillet back on the stove and heat over medium for a few minutes to warm up the caramel a little which will make it less sticky.
This dish may take some practice to perfect the technique; I had trouble the first couple of times myself. The good news is it tastes delicious no matter what it looks like.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.