The Tart Tatin is a beautiful dessert that is a delight for guests to eat but can be a bugger for chefs to cook well. The traditional method of making it is to arrange apples, butter and sugar fanned out in a pan and then top it with pie dough or puff pastry. The whole thing is cooked together in the oven whereby the apples are supposed to caramelize with the sugar while the dough becomes a delicate crust. In the end, the whole thing is inverted to apple-caramel tart perfection. In truth all of those players require different cooking times to turn out well and if you want an amusing 25 minutes you should check out the great Julia Child making a colossal mess of one on her cooking show in the 60’s. Being the unflappable genius that she was, she rescued her tart but there is an easier way.
In this method I cook the apples in butter first, ensuring they reach the perfect consistency. Then I add maple syrup for an instant caramel sauce. The dough is put on top and the tart is finished in the oven with more assurances that everything will finish in harmony. The syrup and fruit cooking together create an appley-maple caramel sauce that is so much better than the original white sugar version.
Unmolding it from the pan will always be a challenge but as Julia put it, “If it goes awry, that just gives you a chance to show your guests how clever you are when you find a way to fix it.” She was a woman who could put a positive spin on a soupy, apple disaster – I miss her.
Maple Tart Tatin
3 Tbsp butter, plus a few extra tsp for the top
3 -4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced ½ inch thick (use a variety that will hold its shape such as Fuji, Braeburn or Honeycrisp)
1/3 cup Sugarmaker’s Cut Pure Maple Syrup
1 pie crust (uncooked, homemade or store bought)
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Find a 10”, oven-proof, fry pan with rounded edges – it will be easier to remove the finished tart from this than from a pan with straight edges.
On a stovetop, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter in the pan. Take your sliced apples and place them on their sides in a circular arrangement, starting at the outside of the pan and working your way in. (You can turn the heat off while you are doing this so you can place them carefully.) Once the first layer is arranged nicely, you can pile the rest of the apples on top so they make an even layer.
Turn the heat back on and slowly cook the apples without stirring on a medium-low flame. You are aiming for a nice brown color without burning them. They will start to exude their juices and the butter and apple juice will create the beginning of a sauce. If possible, tip the pan gently to baste the apples with the butter without disturbing the fan arrangement. When you are sure the apples have browned well, (about 10 minutes) add the maple syrup over the top. Cook another 3 minutes to let the apples, butter and maple blend. If the top looks dry, add a few extra dabs of butter. Remove from the heat.
Take out your pie dough and make sure it is in a round shape that is wide enough to reach the edges of the pan and cover all the apples. The thickness is up to you, depending on how thick you like a crust but don’t make it too thin or it will break when you flip it. Cut a small hole in the middle for steam. Turn the heat off the pan and then carefully place the dough over the apples, tucking the edges inside the pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the dough is thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes depending upon the thickness. Remove from the oven and let cool just a little. While it is still warm, run a knife around the edge of the tart to loosen any crust or apples that are sticking. Carefully place a plate over the top and then using hot pads to hold the pan, flip the entire pan quickly onto the plate. Check to see if all the apples came out and do your best to put them back into the arrangement if there are a few still sticking to the pan.
Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.