By 9th grade, I thought I had to read all of Balzac and all of Hugo, some Hemingway, some Dickens, some Tolstoi. I thought I had to recognize Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Beethoven's 5th, and Tchaikovski's Swan Lake. I thought I had to see Gone With the Wind, Carmen, and Hamlet. I had to go to Paris. I had to get braces for my teeth. I had to go to law school. I had to nurse my child for a full year whether she was up for it or not.
Weird little lists continued to form in my head - things I had to do, things I have to do. They don't involve classics or big goals. I have to vacuum before I leave for vacation. I have to finish laundry every Sunday night. I have to put Lulu to sleep, every night. I have to make stock - and granola - and butter. I have to go to the farmers market every week of the season.
My old lists did not all fit into my teenage years; my new ones don't always fit reality. I read Hesse about a year ago. I never finished 100 Years of Solitude. I have not seen Lawrence of Arabia and it is not on my Netflix queue. Sometimes I don't finish laundry Sunday night. Sometimes butter comes from the store. But I am surely working my way through the French classics - cooking-wise- one by one!
It was in a suburban part of Bucharest that I first tried to make this fall sweet treat- with my first boyfriend. I was 16, so was he. We spent a lot of time cooking- some things never change. We tried new things, mostly without recipes, generally not knowing what we were doing, but always having a sense of what we wanted to get. That time it was Apple Upside Down Cake. Now, I call it Tarte Tatin and give it a whole new go.
Tarte Tatin, a Must-Make French Classic, adapted from Bouchon
Pate Brisee Dough: 12 ounces all purpose flour, sifted; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed small; 1/4 cup cold water.
Apples: 4 lbs Golden Delicious Apples; 3/4 cup sugar; 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces.
To serve: fresh whipped cream.
To make the dough, put 1 cup of the sifted flour in the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Run the mixer on slow and add the butter slowly a little at a time. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter until incorporated. Reduce speed to low again and add the rest of the flour. Add the water and mix until incorporated. This dough should be smooth, not sticky.
Divide the dough in half. Pat each half into a 7 to 8 inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. The good news is that you save half of this for the freezer for next time you want to make this- wrap it in foil and freeze up to one month. The other piece must be refrigerated for at least one hour- apparently ( you remember I'm not exactly the baking connoisseur) if the dough doesn't rest it will shrink when it bakes. Roll the dough into a circle slightly larger than the pan and about 1/4 inch thick. Fold in half then in half again to form a triangle. Refrigerate.
The dish you cook the apples in is important- if you have a traditional tarte tatin dish- good for you. For the rest of us, a heavy ovenproof skillet that is about 9 inches across and no less than 2 inches deep- the caramelized sugar around the apples needs room to bubble up.
Cut the apples in slices of your desired size. You can have large chunks- nearly halves or thin slices like I did- seriously- this is one place where your texture preference can make its mark. Spread the sugar in an even layer in the pan and distribute the butter pieces over the sugar. Arrange the apple slices in a snug circle. Form another circle on top. Reserve a few slices to add when the ones in the pan cook down and shrink.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Allow the apples to cook on medium-high heat. The sugar will melt and some juices from the apples will be released. You want these to evaporate slowly, allowing the caramel to form. Shake the pan from time to time. You might need a little spatula to make sure the apples don't stick to the bottom. As the apples shrink, add a few more slices if needed. The caramel has to reduce to a deep amber color and the juices from the apples will have to evaporate. This can take up to an hour, so be patient. Adjust heat as needed so your caramel doesn't burn.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and drape over the cooked apples. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit for only 30 minutes to cool. Invert over a serving platter.
Reheat before serving and top with fresh whipped cream. Finish up your lists, big and small!
Photography by Jennifer Olson.