The road to crisp is paved with new inventions: Tarte Tatin

Necessity is the mother of invention. And nowhere is this truer than in the King Arthur test kitchen.

I recently watched a couple of my fellow bakers struggle to create Tarte Tatin – France’s classic apple tart – with a perfectly caramelized sugar sauce, and crisp, flaky crust.

While Andrea and Liz had nailed the caramel, they were still trying to figure out the best way to produce a crisp crust underneath that liquid caramel.

They eventually settled on refrigerating the baked filling overnight, before topping it with pastry and baking again the next day.

Two-day Tarte Tatin? Not for me; I’m an impatient pastry baker.

Bread? I’m happy to let the dough rest for hours on end, knowing it’ll be JUST PERFECT whenever I manage to get back to it. Yeast dough is like that; the most flexible, forgiving dough you’ll ever make.

But Tarte Tatin? This delicious (but admittedly somewhat challenging) dessert falls into my most dreaded baking category: “fussy.” The sooner I can wade through the process and have a hot piece of pie in front of me, the happier I am.

So, listening to Andrea and Liz, I’m already mentally ditching the “let the filling rest overnight” step. And quickly moving on to “What if…?”

What if I bake the crust separately, and turn the baked apples and bubbling caramel right out onto a fully-baked, nice-and-crispy crust?

Sounds like a plan; but I have to admit to a couple of misfires.

First I made a crust that was never destined for crispness, a soft, butter- and milk-rich crust. My bad #1.

Then I made an easy puff pastry crust, one designed to be ultra-crisp. I decided to be clever, and place the baked crust atop the apple filling as it simmered in the oven. Within a minute, the crust had softened and drooped, drowning itself in the bubbling caramel. My bad #2.

So I finally wised up: made the easy puff pastry crust; baked it; baked the apple filling; THEN set the crust over the filling, and oh-so-carefully turned the whole thing over onto a serving plate.

The result: hot caramel apples; crisp, buttery crust; vanilla ice cream… and much happiness all around.

Without further ado, let’s make this non-traditional Tarte Tatin.

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Let’s start with the crust, as it’s the lengthiest part of this recipe, due to its rest in the fridge.

Whisk together 1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. Add 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut in pats.

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Work in the butter to make a coarse/crumbly mixture. Leave most of the butter in large, pea-sized pieces.

Add 1/2 cup sour cream.

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Stir it in; the dough won’t be cohesive.

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Add 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, enough to bring the dough together.

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Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface.

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Pat the dough into a rough log, and roll it into an 8” x 10” rectangle.

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Starting with a short side, fold the dough in three like a business letter.

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Flip the dough over, turn it 90°…

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…and roll it into an 8” x 10” rectangle again.

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Fold it in three again.

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Wrap the dough in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

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Roll the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13” circle.  I know, not exactly circular, huh? Do the best you can.

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Fold it in quarters…

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…then place it on the round flat bottom of a tarte tatin set; or on a 14” shallow pizza pan, or other flat baking sheet large enough to hold it.

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Unfold it to cover the bottom of the pan.

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Make a short crimp around the edge, no more than 1/2” high; this is just to corral the hot apple syrup from the baked tart.

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There. Ready to bake – almost. First, a rest in the fridge. Chill the crust for at least 30 minutes. This will prevent it from shrinking as it bakes. While it’s chilling, preheat the oven to 375°F.

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Prick the chilled crust all over; this will prevent it ballooning up as it bakes.

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Bake the crust for about 20 minutes, till it’s golden brown.

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Remove it from the oven (leave the oven on), and set it aside while you prepare the filling.

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Put 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, 2 tablespoons water, and a pinch of salt in the bottom of a burner-safe, oven-safe 11″ round pan. A cast iron skillet or our stovetop-safe ceramic pan work well.

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Over medium heat, melt the butter and dissolve the sugar, stirring gently.

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See the grains of undissolved sugar? You’re not quite there yet, keep heating and stirring.

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At first, you’ll see a rim of butterfat around the edge of the pan.

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But as you continue to cook and stir, the mixture will become creamy.

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See how the sugar grains have mostly disappeared?

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When the butter and sugar have completely combined, stop stirring and allow the mixture to bubble. Cook, stirring occasionally, till it darkens slightly, to about the shade of a palomino pony: a light, golden tan.

Turn off the heat; the mixture will continue to darken as it sits.

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Next, the apples. You’ll need 3 1/2 pounds (about 9) firm baking apples, such as Granny Smith or Golden Delicious.

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Peel…

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…then core and slice, cutting each apple into 8 fat wedges. Our adjustable Dial-a-Slice corer/slicer works very well here.

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One peeled apple, cored and wedged – in 1 second flat!

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This is what I mean by fat wedges. Why fat wedges? Because you want them to hold their shape through the baking process, and thin slices are more liable to turn to mush.

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See how the syrup darkened as it sat?

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Lay half the apples in the pan. If you used 9 apples, each cut in 8 wedges, this will mean 36 wedges in the pan.

Of course, I didn’t think to actually count wedges before I did this the first time. I went back and squeezed in six more wedges after I took this picture.

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Place another layer of apples on top. Drizzle 2 tablespoons boiled cider, or thawed frozen apple juice concentrate, over the apples. This is an extra step; it’s tasty, but not a deal-breaker if you don’t have boiled cider (or apple juice concentrate).

Can you use maple syrup? Sure. Honey? Sounds like a plan. Molasses, brown sugar syrup, cane syrup, agave, pomegranate syrup? Go for it.

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Bake the apples and syrup for about 30 minutes, until the apples are barely fork tender.

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Take the pan out of the oven.

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OK, here we go…

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Place the baked crust atop the dish with the cooked apples in syrup. The crust should be crimped side down (bottom up).

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Then take the flat, round pan on which the crust baked, and put it atop the crust.

See where we’re going here? We’re going to flip the whole thing over, so the crust is on the bottom, the apples and syrup on top.

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Carefully turn the apples, crust, and pans upside down.

(I know this pan is a bit blackened – it’s from using it on the burner. It’s OK, really. It’ll look like this after the first time you use it. And you can certainly scrub it clean, but I’m not one for unnecessary cleaning. An honestly blackened pot is just fine with me.)

Wait a few seconds, then lift off the top pan, the one the apples and syrup were in.

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The apples should have settled onto the crust. If any have remained in the pan, use a fork to transfer them to the crust.

If the apples on the crust have slid to one side (as they did here), use a fork to very gently rearrange them so they’re in their original position, covering the crust completely.

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Like this.

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The syrup will pool within the crimped crust, then gradually soak in.

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Look at those flaky layers!

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Serve warm; ice cream is always welcome.

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Be still, my heart… Is there anything so comforting as vanilla ice cream melting into warm apple pie?

Or, as they might say in France, tarte tatin avec glace vanille?

(Any of you who want to correct my long-ago high-school French – feel free!)

P.S. The crust on this Tarte Tatin is crisp, but can’t withstand the softening assault of liquid caramel forever. Enjoy this treat soon after it’s made.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Tarte Tatin.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Sandra

    What a brilliant idea! I’ve had too many tarte tatin in France which were heavy and didn’t have the visual appeal this one does. It’s definitely on my list to try.

    Reply
  2. LaJuana

    The pastry looks divine but that red pan is what has captured my eye more than anything else! Something for the want list, to be sure!

    I’m also with you on an honestly blackened pan being fine. I remember my youth when I took joy in shining not only my pots mirror bright daily, but HAD to show all of my friends how to get theirs that way too! What a waste! Aging brings joys of all sorts..in a word, freedom! I love it! Love all of y’all at KAF too, you continually impress! Thanks for all each of you do!

    Reply
  3. Erin in PA

    AMAZING – this definitely warms my heart on this chilly Friday morning :) (Although we are out of our cold snap, I am still not a fan of 20ish degrees in the morning!) I think I will save this for next fall when the local apples are in season around here, but if I need to take a showstopper somewhere before – this could be the one! :)

    Reply
  4. StrangerfromEurope

    Why arent you baking the tarte with the dough on top: that s how i do it….

    prepare the apples like you did and then just throw the dough on top of it, just before baking. That s how I learned – and like it…. really wondererd about this way of preparing it.

    To each his own, S. – baking is as much art as science. And there’s more than one way to “skin a cat.” For Tarte Tatin with the crust baked on top, check out our Classic Tarte Tatin. PJH

    Reply
  5. Marianna

    This dessert is a thing of beauty! That flaky crust-I think I can taste it with my eyes! :) I have a birthday coming up next week-this is MY kind of birthday cake!! Definitely with ice cream on top! My husband loves his tools and what we like to call the “apple lathe” and always volunteers to use it for me when I am making pie or strudel. He will be so happy when I show him this recipe. Maybe happy enough to want to order me that pan!! ;)

    Marianna – I don’t dare call it the “apple lathe,” my tool-coveting husband will have to buy one. But oh yeah… if it doesn’t come in a power model, he’s probably not interested! PJH

    Reply
  6. Jackie

    Can Greek yogurt be substituted for the sour cream in the pastry recipe?

    I’d think so, Jackie – probably marginally less tender, but it’ll perform the same function taste-wise. Go for it! PJH

    Reply
  7. Pamela Jans

    “about the shade of a palomino pony” I laughed out loud. You have too much fun. A lurker here who finally got enough moxie to write a comment, I check for your blog every morning and wish you wrote daily. Question though, re: the Mystery Cake. Why do you put the soda into the tomato soup. Why is this better than mixing it into the dry ingredients and adding it then? Thanks! and good baking.

    Thanks, Pamela – for moving from “lurking” to commenting! I’ll ask MJ to answer your Mystery question… stay tuned. PJH
    Hi Pamela, thanks for taking the leap and commenting, I hope you’ll become a regular poster. As for mixing the soda into the soup in the can, I do it because my mother did it, and her aunt before her. Most recipes I’ve seen call for mixing in the can, but I can tell you that over the weekend, I was in a hurry and poured the soup into the batter before adding the soda, so before turning the mixer back on, I stirred the soda into the soup and let it fizz a bit, then continued with the mix. The results were just the same as mixing in the can. My big guess as to why it was originally written that way would be that it saved dirtying a dish, something I am all for! ~ MaryJane
    Thanks for clarifying your question Pamela. The reason the soup and soda are mixed together first is to allow the reaction to begin, to allow the bubbles to get a head start so that the cake is well leavened. You can try mixing the soda in with the dry ingredients to do a comparison. My feeling is that the cake may not rise as well in the end. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. Martin

    Tarte Tatin is great! However, the original method is much easier, and uses only one pie pan:

    1) After making the crust and caramel, bake the apples first as shown for about 30 minutes. The apples firm up and dry in, preventing the pie dough from disappearing between the apples.
    2) Roll out the pie dough, place it directly on the warm apples and poke holes in it. Then bake the entire pie, upside-down, for 20 minutes.

    Baking with the crust on top is how you get a golden brown and perfect crust, just like the Tatin sisters did.

    Thanks, Martin – so many methods, so little time… PJH

    Reply
  9. Vicki Hansen

    “See How it’s done” is the best step by step visual I’ve ever seen. Better than the cooking classes I’ve attended. In cooking classes you tend to forget the color or miss the look of the sugar when it is completely liquefied as there are so many heads trying to crowd in. I love, love this feature. I will try your tartin. Thank you.

    Thanks for the nice feedback, Vicki! PJH

    Reply
  10. Jm Bauman

    Personally I have never had a problem making a tart tartin – I carmelize put butter in a cast iron pan (10 inch) add my apples and sugar and spice – when the sugar melts and the right color is achieved in the carmel this is ready – then I cool it a bit. I make the crust from 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour and 1/4 of cake flour, 1/4 # butter and 1 tablespoon (or 2) of sugar = chill the crust for 1/2 an hour and then roll it out and put a wash of beaten egg on the side that will be on the apples (this seals the crust so it can crisp on the underside – put this on top and tucked down the sides of the carmelized apples – cut a few vents in the top of the crust and brush egg wash on top and bake in 375 oven until appropiately browned and the smell is distinct… A tart tartin is a quick home spun dish and should be simple. It is meant to be eaten after the meal it was made for. It is meant to be simple and enjoyed…. not fussy.

    Thanks, Jim – sounds like you need to come and give me a lesson. I’ll provide the ice cream… :) PJH

    Reply
  11. Renate

    I can’t wait to try this recipe, it looks so tasty! My peeler always makes thin horizontal slices as it peels, but yours didn’t. How do you do that?

    Renate, if your peeler is the same as the one we sell, you can simply loosen the circular part at the front and move it out of the way. That way, your apple gets peeled – but not cored or sliced. PJH

    Reply
  12. Jeanette

    Almost deja vu! I just watched the Julia Child ‘Tarte Tatin’ show from 1971 earlier this week. She also started the apples on top of the stove in a skillet. But I agree with Jim. This is about a rustic and homey dessert. One of the great things about baking a crust over the fruit is the difference in texture of the 2 sides of the crust. The results are just not the same when they are done separately. If you are going to do it your way, why worry about whether you can get the stuff inverted. Just make fried apples in a skillet on top of the stove and pour them over the baked pastry. Much quicker and less hassle.

    Reply
  13. MaryAnn

    I agree with those who say that this should be a simple dessert. Carmel, apples on top, crust on top that, bake, invert, let it sit long enough for the carmel to drip down and all the apples to fall, remove pan.
    Having lived in France for many years, I do have three suggestions: first, the apples chosen must be a variety that won’t get mushy. Yours look mushy – or they’re overcooked. Next, the slices should be overlapped slightly and lastly, if you can get it, use creme fraiche instead of ice cream. The tart/sweet is the final, perfect touch.

    Thanks for the advice, MaryAnn. I did think the apples were too soft; I used Granny Smith, which usually hold up fairly well, and only baked for 30 minutes. Guess I should have baked even less. Gee, I’m learning a lot about Tarte Tatin here – thanks, everyone! PJH

    Reply
  14. Liz

    PJ, I think you are brilliant! Although there are many ways to make Tarte Tatin, (and just about everything!) the photo of that flaky crust has convinced me. I am going to try your creation. Thank you for experimenting and coming up with a recipe that looks delicious.

    Reply
  15. Patti

    I was absolutely fascinated by the whole procedure! The pan is definitely on my wish list now. What really caught my attention, though, was the step-by-step description with pictures. The attention to detail in describing and photographing each step, along with the “oops, I goofed” admissions (and the uneven crimp to the crust that shows the rest of us it doesn’t need to be perfect to be good) are what sets this above a lot of the “do it yourself” instruction on the web. Not only will I get the pan, but I will also be back to view more recipes. Thank you for the quality you show!

    Thank you so much for your kind comments, Patti – we work hard to make your baking the very best it can be, through our classes (in Vermont, nationally, and at middle schools); and through this blog. I want everyone to feel like I’m right there holding your hand – saying, “Watch – here’s how to do this. Now YOU try…” :) PJH

    Reply
  16. Sharon

    I am new to this blog and am loving the step by step directions with wonderful photos. This pan looks wonderful — but I am wondering what other types of things a person would do with it? My kitchen is on the small side and doesn’t have room for things that don’t have multiple uses.

    Keep up the great work!

    Sharon, the skillet part of the pan can be used as a regular stovetop-to-oven skillet. So you can use it for all your regular sautéing chores, as well as oven baking. The base can go in the oven, so you can use it as a sheet for heating hors d’oeuvres, baking rolls or a pizza… anything you’d use a 13″ circular flat pan for. Take a look at these recipes from the manufacturer, Emile Henry. And at our Sausage, Potato, & Pepper Bake, and at our Cheese & Broccoli Crepes. PJH

    Reply
  17. Tamara

    My sister sent me the link to this article and recipe as I am something of a Tart Tatin fanatic. It is the ONLY thing I make for dessert. I hate to bake but love to cook. After my first trip to Paris, I became obsessed with perfecting the Tart Tatin, which is not really as simple as it should be. I have tried every method there is with every kind of apple and pastry imaginable. After literally one hundred incarnations, I have found the simplest is the best and most authentic.

    Normally, one would arrange the apples, sugar them and not toss or turn them whilst in the skillet. I have found that by leaving them undisturbed, they tend to cook unevenly. The other reason I like to cook them in this manner is to avoid having a ton of butter and sugar in the pan, running all over the crust and making it soggy. I prefer Gala apples as they are firm and hold their shape. Granny Smith tend to cook down into applesauce and then you’ve got a real mess on your hands. Don’t forget that you are cooking the apples twice. Once atop the stove and once in the oven.

    Four ingredients, no more, no less.

    2 Tablespoons of Butter
    1/2 Cup Sugar
    12 Gala Apples
    1 Package of Frozen Puff Pastry (yes, frozen)

    Preheat over to 375

    Melt butter in large, heavy bottomed skillet which can either go into the oven or from which the handle can be removed to go into the oven.

    Add sugar

    Cook over medium heat until the sugar is melted and begins to turn a rich golden brown. Remove from heat.

    Peel and core apples, cutting into quarters and toss into the sauté pan with the sugar and butter mixture. Turn heat back on and cook for approximately 20 minutes (turning occasionally) until apples have cooked down a bit and caramel is dark but not burnt. Rearrange apples in pan to create a nice pattern and any apples not fitting on the bottom of the pan can be stacked in layers.

    Remove from heat.

    Roll out puff pastry so that it will cover the pan with a bit extra to tuck in to the sides of the pan. Lay rolled pastry over apples and cut four small slits in pastry to vent. Bake at 375 for approximately 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

    Wait five minutes and place a serving plate larger than your pan on top of the pastry. Using a firm grip and potholders or dish towels, flip the entire thing over, turning away from you so as not to drip hot sugar on yourself.

    Can be served immediately or later with a bit of rewarming. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche to the side.

    Yum!

    Sounds delicious and easy, Tamara. Thanks for sharing! As for the frozen puff pastry, it’s a good quick substitute, but if you like making your own with unbleached flour, then follow our recipe – it’s the same thing, only better ingredients/less chemicals. PJH

    Reply
  18. Lucy

    Sorry, but i have to share, in the interest of better baking for all of us that Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen has the very best recipe for Tarte Tatin. Baked in one cast iron pan, both the apples and crust are simply the best. Even the way the apples are cut, not standard slices, is perfect. I think KAF is almost always the best and last word on baking but it is always good to share and hear about other recipes and the ways that bakers work on improving old classics.

    Thanks, Lucy – We’re always happy to hear what Cook’s is doing. We’ve worked together in a number of ways over the years, so don’t be sorry to mention them. They’re a great outfit with really nice people. PJH

    Reply
  19. Susan

    This recipe & blog came at a very handy time for me. My husband and I do a monthly cooking demonstration/dinner at the old folks retirement home. (His dad & step-mom are there.) This month, being inspired by the movie “Julie & Julia” we decided to make dishes that Julia Child had done. So a 4-course French meal was planned. The main dish, soup, and appetizer were fairly easy to figure out. But dessert…. So I made your Tarte Tatin. (Without the tarte pan unfortunately.) It turned out pretty good. It was just a little juicy and that slopped over when being flipped. However, it tasted great! This was the ready-assembled one that we fed to the folks. Then for the demonstration, I tried making it all it a skillet and put the crust on top to bake. (As one of the comments in this blog said to do.) That also was a little on the juicy side, but tasted great. Most of the little old ladies had to stay after to see it come out of the oven and to watch us turn it over.
    Next month… it’s a Taste of Scandinavia. Any ideas???

    What a lovely thing to do, Susan – I’m sure you’re much appreciated. My mom is Norwegian, but the only Norwegian thing I know of that might interest the old folks is lefse, a kind of dry-fried, thin, potato-based crepe-like pancake, which you spread with butter and sprinkle with sugar. I’m certain they wouldn’t want you to make lutefisk (lye-soaked cod)! A Swedish smorgasbord might be nice – rye bread and crackers with lots of little bits to put on, but bread would take too long to demo, I’d guess. How about a filled crepe (farmers or ricotta cheese) with lingonberries? Anything dairy is pretty Scandinavian – Google rommegrot (though I think that would be boring to watch, as all it does is simmer). How about a big, puffy Swedish puff pancake with lingonberries and cream? Or you could shape and bake some St. Lucia buns… Any other suggestions, readers? PJH

    Reply
  20. Mary

    I was planning on making this dessert for a dinner party but as the day progressed I was running short of time. Instead I make the dessert minus the crust. I used my iron skillet and the apples I used were golden/yellow delicious. My apples stayed firm and were not mushy. I was able to flip the apple filling over on a rimmed plate and the presentation was also very beautiful. This is just wonderful served warm with vanilla ice cream. My guests raved and said forget the crust!!

    Reply
  21. chiot's Run

    You know what I do, I bake mine in a cast iron skillet with the crust on top. I don’t turn it upside down to serve though, I serve as is with crust on top and that way it stays crispy.

    Reply
  22. Tereze

    This is my first comment here too, love your site and this blogs, even though I don’t live in the US and unfortunately many of the ingredients in your recipes are not available here in Sydney. I still love the knowledge and techniques I gain here. This site is so much fun, thank you, I’m sure it’s not easy to put up all these pictures and blogs. About this Tart Tatin, I prefer mine with pears and ground cardamom and the pastry on top, less cleaning. One tip though, when flipping the whole thing over ensure you wear a long kitchen mitt, you don’t want to know how I came up with this tip.

    OUCH! I can imagine, Tereze… Thanks for connecting here. I’m working on a Christmas recipe right now from a friend in Australia – brandy mince tarts. Any experience with those? What type crust, what size? She gave me the brandy mince recipe, but nothing else! :) PJH

    Reply

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