Upside down cakes….I love ’em. The first one I ever had was a pineapple upside-down cake. That was long before I became allergic to some varieties of pineapple. Yes, allergic.
Like most good things, legend has it that the Tarte Tatin was an accident, first created in the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron in France in 1898. The hotel was run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin and herein lies the source of differeing stories, the most popular though being that Stéphanie Tatin, who did most of the cooking, was overworked one day. She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. An alternative version of the tart’s origin is offered on the Brotherhood of the Tarte Tatin website according to which Stéphanie baked a caramelised apple tart upside-down by mistake. Regardless she served her guests the unusual dish hot from the oven and a classic was born. (Reference : Wikipedia)
The Tarte became a signature dish at the Hotel Tatin and the recipe spread through the Sologne region. Its lasting fame is probably due to the restaurateur Louis Vaudable, who tasted the tart on a visit to Sologne and made the dessert a permanent fixture on the menu at his restaurant Maxim’s of Paris.
For me, I’m always amazed at how French desserts and techniques inspire fear in me…. from Bain Marie to Clafoutis, I am left trembling. Why? I guess they sound complicated, posh, unattainable. Mind you, I also felt the same way about Pesto…before I conquered it so that says nothing. Maybe I’m just a fearful person!
So I had this recipe from a little book I have on Pastry classics. The Pear Tarte Tatin page has been dog-eared for months and years.
Till yesterday, when I decided to be brave…once again. Afterall, a girl can hardly live on past successes…only. And what joy it is to say that no longer will I be put off by names and imaginings. I shall rise to every challenge – minus eating celery, with grace and with style. I just might succeed! And so I made it…with some additions…only one actually…. (#20)
So…try this classic, with apples or with pears. I reckon Pineapple, Peaches and Nectarines would also go very, very well. Maybe with a few pecans crumbled….for texture. I am a pecan lover can you tell. And always, always, always served with Creme Fraiche. No more, no less.
So here’s the how to
Ingredients50g/ 2 oz / 1/4 cup butter, softened 50g/ 2 oz / 1/4 cup caster sugar seeds from 10 cardamoms 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger 225g/8 oz puff pastry or 4 puff pastry squares (about 5 X 5 inches or 12 X 12 cm), thawed if frozen. 4 small ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and halved lengthways (I used Anjou pears) To serve – Creme Fraiche or cream or ice-cream or…. Feeds 1, 2, 3 or 4…ideally no more otherwise you hardly have enough to savour the greatness and the delicacy of this pie!
Don’t be in a hurry to use the puff pastry – if it is still frozen and you try to work with it, it will break so be a tad bit careful.
It is much easier to handle the puff pastry when it is cool. If it gets too warm, it will be difficult to handle (very sticky) and will result in edible but not very nice looking pockets so don’t allow the pastry stay out too long, thawing before you use it. About 5-6 minutes at room temperature should be sufficient for it to have ‘shed’ its frozenness.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade (425 degrees Fahrenheit)
Spread the butter over the base of an 18cm/7 inch ovenproof heavy-based pan or cake tin (preferably not a springform one). And please don’t do as I did and heat the pan first…. you’ll end up with partially melted butter if you do. So, moving swiftly on, sprinkle the sugar over it (Vanilla sugar would go great if making an Apple version) and then add the cardamoms and chopped ginger.
On a floured surface, roll-out the puff pastry. Since I use pastry sheets, I piece them together and then roll the edges to seal. Then I place the pan over the patchwork pastry and cut around the pan, leaving an edge of a couple of centimetres. The I prick it lightly and transfer it to a plate, put it in the refigerator while I go about the rest.
Then I arrange the pears, rounded side down on the butter and sugar and set the tin or pan on medium heat till the sugar melts and begins to bubble. If other areas are browning more than others, move the pan around but do not stir otherwise the mixture WILL NOT caramelise because the sugar will form lumps before it has a chance to melt and liquefy! David has some tips on making caramels…
As soon as the sugar-butter mix has caramelised, remove the tin or pan carefully from the heat. Don’t worry about the pears turning brown on the outside…they’ll end up even browner so
Place the pastry on top and tuck the edges down the side of the pan.
Transfer to the (hot) oven…while taking a photo with one hand 🙂
Bake for 25 minutes or until well risen and golden. Take it out of the oven with the greatest care…this is one dessert you DON’T want to lose, not to mention the heat from the pan handles or the sides of the tin or the oven tray – which ever one makes it out, alive.Leave the tart in the tin/pan for 2-3 minutes until the juices have stopped bubbling – you might be able to hear it.
Then with utmost care, again, place a plate over the top of the pan and carefully invert the tin. You may have to loosen the pears if they don’t want to leave their warm home. Should there be need, carefully slide a spatula under and give a gentle nudge – you don’t want poked pears do you?
While admiring it from all sides.
Slice, aiming to keep a whole half pear in a wedge…looks nicer. Serve warm with Creme Fraiche and a cuppa. Bliss.
Want to know what it tastes like? Here are some clues – delicate, fragranced, delicious…. The Cardamoms and ginger give it some spice but not in an overpowering way…. The Pears are PERFECTLY cooked – soft with a little bite, and the caramel, oh the caramel, luscious toffee flavoured and syruppy all rolled together. I would eat this and make this over and over and over again.
Go to bed happy.