One of my favourite times of the year is when there is a supply of fresh apples of the varieties that are best suited to making apple cakes or apple pies. For cakes, I use either Golden Delicious or Granny Smith, depending on the style of cake and the associated cooking time. For pies and the like it has to be the latter variety and they are at their peak right now in my part of the world.
Our favourite apple pie is the classic French dish, Tarte tatin, which originated in the Loire Valley. The recipe we use is found in Great cooking classics, a cookbook published by The Australian Women’s Weekly. We haven’t modified the recipe so I won’t reproduce it here but it shouldn’t be too difficult to track it down in cyberspace.
The main ingredients for success in this dish are patience and care while cooking the wedges of apple in the caramel of butter, sugar and orange juice. We put the pan over a simmer mat, which spreads the heat more widely when cooking with gas. The first two photos show how the apple shrinks a little and, more importantly, the caramel slowly darkens.
In the next photo, the tart has been removed from the oven just before the pastry becomes too brown. Again care is needed to ensure that the oven is not so hot that the sugar in the pastry burns before it is properly cooked.
In this recipe, a semi-sweet shortcrust pastry is used. On the internet, I have been surprised to find that some recipes use sheets of bought puff pastry. That texture and flavour would not appeal to us at all.
And here is the finished tart. The colour is amazing, the caramel is gelatinous and the pastry is firm but not crumbly when you slice it for serving.
Much as we are satisfied with what we can produce using this recipe, it runs a distant second to the dish of Tarte tatin I was served at Hotel du Centre in Meursault. The filling was all about the apple. Yes, it had been cooked with some butter and sugar but they were in the background; somehow the pieces of apple were intact but ready to melt in the mouth. And the pastry was ethereal – a thin golden crust over a layer of soft, delicious “je ne sais quoi”!
It is in the hope of finding a way to reproduce something like this version that we have been googling tarte tatin. So far, we have drawn a blank. However, we think that we will try something derived from the batter for the Sicilian torta di mele. If that works, I will let you know.
Update: it did work, at the second attempt! This recipe produces a batter that comes out as a delicate biscuit after being baked.
½ tsp vanilla essence
50g castor sugar
½ tsp baking powder
80g plain flour
35g melted butter
- Whisk egg, vanilla and sugar together until pale and creamy (about 4 minutes). Add the flour and milk and mix briefly; then add the melted butter and combine thoroughly.
- Spoon the batter over the surface of the apple in the pan. Carefully use a fork or a small spatula to spread the batter evenly.
- Place in the oven at 150-160C and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the batter has become a cake consistency, is golden brown and firm to a light press.
- When the handle of pan is safe to touch, cross your toes, cover the pan with a plate and quickly invert the pan.
- Serve at room temperature, or slightly warmed, with a little cream.
Apple and rhubarb crumble
Another dish that we like to make during the wintry days of Granny Smith season is an apple and rhubarb crumble. Obviously, it is not as sophisticated as Tarte tatin but its flavours and textures are diverse and satisfying. Not everybody is a fan of rhubarb – I came to it late myself – but it does provide another element of flavour and a vivid hue. The latter is enhanced by the grated ginger, one of our modifications to the original recipe.
1 bunch of fresh rhubarb
3-4 Granny Smith apples, depending on size
¾ cup raw sugar
3cm fresh ginger
¾ cup plain flour
½ cup brown sugar (or use Demerara sugar for a crunchier result)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
70g cold butter
¼ cup rolled oats
¼ cup shredded coconut
- Trim rhubarb of leaves, sponge off any dirt and cut into 3cm pieces. Peel, core and roughly chop apples. Peel and grate ginger.
- Juice lemon and add juice and raw sugar to a wide pan over medium heat. Add apple and ginger and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add chopped rhubarb and cook for 5 minutes or until rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked fruit to a 2 litre capacity ovenproof dish. Leave about 25% of the cooking liquid behind in the pan (we then use it as a sauce with crepes).
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- While the fruit cools a little, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and diced butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir through rolled oats and coconut and sprinkle evenly over fruit.
- Cook in oven for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve with cream or ice cream.
The first photo shows the true colour of the cooked topping; the second shows the profile of the dish. Writing this has given me an appetite for another piece, so I will sign off now!