Friday, October 1, 2010
Fall is officially in the air! I love this season, with its breezy days and cool nights; the beautiful palette of colors as leaves turn; fall greens such as kale and swiss chard; and the bewilidering array of knobbly pumpkins and squashes in the markets. I also love apples and pears, the quintessential fall fruit. Growing up in India, which is mostly tropical, I didn't get to sample much variety by way of these, so it was only since moving to the US that I experienced them in their full glory. I'd visit every stall in the Union Square Greenmarket, sampling each kind that the farmers were generous enough to offer, making my own tasting notes and discovering my favorites along the way.
I enjoy apples and pears in so many different ways - baked, poached, in salads, or simply eaten out of hand. Of course, my all-time favorite way to cook with them is to make an indulgent tarte tatin. This is one of my favorite desserts - apples or pears cooked in salted buttery caramel and baked under a flaky pastry crust. There are amusing stories about the origin of this French classic - some say a server once dropped a tart, and then went on to serve it in its upturned state. Others say someone forgot to line the tart pan with pastry before filling it with the fruit and decided to bake it on top of the fruit instead. While I can't vouch for the authenticity of either story, I can definitely attest to how delicious this tart is. It is one of those rare desserts you can put together with just five ingredients: fruit of choice, flour, butter, sugar and salt. After tweaking around with a few different recipes, I've formulated my own version. It's easy to do ahead, too; the dough circle and the caramel can both be stored in the refrigerator overnight, making this a good dessert for entertaining.
This is the perfect fall dessert. Traditionally, it's served au naturel, but even though the French may scoff at me, I certainly wouldn't say no to a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of creme fraiche alongside mine!
Recipe: Tarte tatin (Serves 6-8, depending on your fondness for this dessert!)
1 1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter (the French use salted, but I usually have only unsalted)
A good pinch of sea salt - I save my precious fleur de sel for use in sweet applications like this one. If using salted butter, reduce or omit this, depending on how salty you like your caramel.
As many apples or pears you need to fit your pan, which could be a cake pan or an ovenproof skillet 8-10" in diameter. Use a firm variety which holds its shape when cooked. The picture above is of a tart made with Bosc pears.
For the crust, dump the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly. Add the butter and pulse till it is about the size of small peas. Add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse till the dough just comes together. Turn it out on to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten it into a disk, wrap in cling film and chill for half an hour. Once the dough is rested, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a circle a little larger than your pan. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill. This makes sense to do ahead because the chilled circle of dough is very easy to transfer to the fruit.
Preheat the oven to 375F(190C)
Peel and core the fruit and cut into quarters. If not using them immediately, transfer to a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon in it to prevent discoloration.
For the caramel, put the sugar with a tablespoon of water in your pan of choice, and place over medium heat. Once the sugar is melted and starts to boil, cook it for a few minutes, until it caramelizes and turns a deep amber color. Remove from the heat, add in the butter and salt and stir till incorporated. If your pan cannot be used on the stovetop, do this step in a saucepan and transfer the caramel to the pan.
Pat the fruit dry and arrange, rounded side down, on top of the caramel. Pack it in tightly to allow for shrinkage while baking. Place the dough circle on top of the fruit. The warmth of the pan will cause it to drape to the contours of the fruit. Bake the tart for about 45 minutes or until the top is a deep golden brown. Allow to cool briefly, then place a large plate on the top of your pan and flip the tart over. The juices can be poured off and reduced further to glaze the tart. Serve warm on its own or with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche.