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.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.
Stay up-to-date on what's happening
Receive the latest in local entertainment news in your inbox weekly!