Tarte Tatin (from Ripailles, Reynaud 2008 and The Guardian, Cloake 2011)
If I could, I would start with dessert and eat backwards. I’d only finish with a starter if I could still find a hitherto unknown corner of my stomach to cram it into. Restaurants for me are about choosing dessert, then trying to pick my other courses to ensure dessert has the room it so rightly deserves in there.
So it was time for me to tackle a French pudding, and starting with my favourite seemed only right (in reward for all this cooking). Apple tarte tatin. Sticky, sweet caramel oozing over every undulation of the gently sour apples on their satin sheet of buttery pastry. This is sex food. You can’t talk about tarte tatin without it sounding sexy, you can’t eat tarte tatin without it feeling sexy. It’s the mood lighting of food. It’s the silk lingerie of food. It’s the Barry White of food.
I took Felicity Cloake of The Guardian’s advice on using half Coxes, half Granny Smiths, peeled halved cored and refrigerated 24 hours in advance, and I bowed to her experience that shortcrust pastry outshines flaky. I have never made pastry before. Pastry chefs are well paid for a reason, and I have seen Mary Berry mourn too many soggy bottoms to want one of those myself. As such, it is not a task I treat lightly, but despite being given the option, I felt like I would have been cheating myself if I had bought ready-made.
Rolling it out to the right thickness and size was a bit of a palaver, not least because the first time I thought I had achieved it, it had stuck itself to my work surface like superglue and I had to scrape it off with a palette knife and start again. Too thick and it’s like eating a telephone directory, too thin and it’s soggy bottom ahoy.
What I loved about Cloake’s recipe over Reynaud’s is the one-pan method: saves on the washing up effort after. So the pastry just had to be lain over the fruit, itself stewing in the caramelised sugar and butter, and tucked in with a bedtime story. The one about the princess and the pea… anyway. Then into the oven until golden.
It is supremely frustrating not being able to see what is going on under the pastry. What is happening to those apples? What if they’ve run away? Inversion of a tarte tatin from the pan is like trying to flip pancakes in both hands. And feet. Inevitable seepage occurred. But when I revealed the tarte in all of its glory I was almost in tears, it was so beautiful. Not in that perfect princess kind of way, but in a characterful and seductive kind of way. If these were the Oscars, think Kristin Scott Thomas instead of Cameron Diaz. Sadly my camera phone pictures don’t convey the rich ambers on display, but you get an idea.
Serving it up still hot with big dollops (technical measurement) of crème fraîche and I must try to admit without sounding like a pretentious self-obsessed arse that, of all the tarte tatins I have eaten over the course of my lifetime (and that number is many), this tasted the best. Maybe the sweet taste of victory had something to do with it. No, too pretentious. Still, look at this and tell me it doesn’t make you hot under the collar?