A good tarte tatin is a double oxymoron – bitter sweet and crisply soft. I made one last night for a friend’s birthday dinner party. It was a good one, though I say it myself, as shouldn’t.
If you’re making a tarte tatin, there are two things you must take particular care of – you must let the apples burn and burn, otherwise you won’t get the bitterness that goes so well with the sweetness. And when your caramelised apples are ready and you’ve turned down the heat, you must add back some of the liquid that’s been lost before you cover the apple mixture with pastry. If you don’t, the apples will lack the softness that goes so well with the crispness of the pastry.
Peel and core several dessert apples and cut them into wedges.
Melt butter and sugar together in a non-stick oven-proof frying pan until the mixture is hot. Spread the bubbling syrup around the pan. Turn down the heat.
Add the wedges to the pan, with the outer surface down, in pleasing concentric circles. If you have any to spare, chop finely and scatter across the surface of the pan to fill the gaps between the wedges.
Chop the peel of a whole lemon as finely as you can and scatter across the apple.
Turn up the heat, almost to the highest level, and let the apples cook and burn. Don’t disturb them. Wait until there’s an unmistakeable smell of caramel and then lower the heat slightly. Continue to let the apples burn. The apples are ready when their burning surfaces are a very dark brown, and when caramel oozes between the wedges. You must be careful not to let the temperature rise to the point when the sugar becomes self-combusting. This can result in runaway combustion like a nuclear explosion. You will be left with a carbonised mess you can do nothing with.
Remove from the heat. Mix the juice of half a lemon with a tangy orange brandy and pour over the mixture. Add enough to turn the caramel into a soft glue, but not so much that the apples are surrounded by liquid. Do not disturb the structure.
Roll out your full-butter puff pastry and drape across the pan.
Bake at 175 C until the pastry has risen and become golden brown. Approximately 30 minutes.
Turn the tart upside down onto a plate before it cools and eat it hot or cold and always with triple cream.