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Tarte tatin is an absolute classic, created in 1889 at a French hotel run by the sisters Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. This spectacular upside-down tart is rumoured to have been created accidentally by Caroline when she was making an apple pie. Finding that the pan of apples cooking in butter and sugar were beginning to burn, she quickly covered them with pastry and placed the whole thing in the oven. Turning it out once the pasty was cooked, she found to her surprise that the tart was a huge success with the guests. It then became the signature dish of the hotel. Tarte tatin can be made with other fruits such as pears (as in the variation below), pineapple and stone fruit such as peaches (still firm), or even as a savoury dish with onions, shallots or tomatoes.
Make the pastry and allow to chill.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400°F), Gas mark 6.
To prepare the apples, peel them with a peeler to keep them in a nice rounded shape, then cut into quarters. Remove the core from each quarter and set aside. Don’t worry if they go brown, and don’t cover in water or they will be too wet.
Place the sugar and water in an ovenproof saucepan (20–22cm/8–81/2in diameter ovenproof saucepan) set over a low-medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil the syrup until it starts to caramelise around the edges - about 5 minutes. Do not stir once it has come to the boil otherwise the syrup will crystallise. Once the syrup starts to turn golden, you may need to swirl the pan slightly to even out the caramelisation.
Once the syrup is a golden caramel in colour, add the butter and swirl the pan again to distribute it through the caramel.
Remove the pan from the heat, and place the apple quarters in a concentric circle around the outside and any remaining pieces in the centre, keeping in mind that the tart will be flipped over when serving. The apples must completely cover the base of the pan; you may need an extra apple!
Place the pan back over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes to slightly caramelise the apples, while you roll out the pastry.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface to a round about 2cm (3/4 in) wider in diameter than the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and place the pastry on top of the almost cooked apples. Using the base of a spoon or a fork, tuck the pastry in around the edges of the apples. Brush the pastry with beaten egg then, using a skewer or fork, prick a few holes in the pastry.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the apples feel cooked when you insert a skewer through the centre.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for just a few minutes before placing a plate on top of the pan and carefully (it is hot!) but quickly flipping it out. Use a plate with a slight lip to catch the delicious juices. Cut into slices to serve. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or whipped cream with a little icing sugar and cinnamon or Calvados mixed in.
Pear and ginger tarte tatin: Use 4–5 pears of medium ripeness instead of the apples and add 1 teaspoon of grated root ginger in with the butter.
Rachel’s baking tips
Try adding 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the pastry.
* You can also make this with puff or sweet shortcrust pastry
* If you wish, use golden caster or granulated sugar, but it is a little trickier to see when it is caramelised, so keep watching the pan. The mixture will go a shade darker than the original golden colour and should take about 5 minutes in total over a medium–high heat. If it burns, I would suggest cutting your losses and starting again!
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