Before I began my career as a publicist, I spent the age of 15-21 as a waitress in restaurants which ranged from greasy spoon coffee shops to high end French couture restaurants. All these years later, I still have very fond memories of hanging out in the kitchen watching the chefs and line cooks puff up perfect soufflés, julienne a bucket of some exotic vegetable or sauce up a chicken fried steak. I really enjoyed watching the assembly line of prep and putting together of ingredients to be plated and toted out to the dining room. I learned about wines as my customers ordered bottles and gave me sips to experience along with them. The walk-in was a particularly interesting place, not only to catch my breath for a moment of solitude, but to steal a nibble of something that may have been forbidden for the wait staff to eat. I remember a giant English trifle of which attracted my spoon, dish and I into the refrigerator a few more times than I probably should. Aside from helping my Mom in her kitchen as a kid, these were the places where I was really was bitten by the food bug. Just curious really, I suppose. I learned that my preconceived notions were not foregone conclusions – “you mean there is no chicken in a chicken fried steak?” An aspect of myself which lives on today in my publicity work, I loved to make anything eccentric mainstream; once I learned what a coulibiac actually was, we couldn’t keep it in the kitchen.
Many recipes came from those years which I hastily penned down on cocktail napkins and to this day, keep in a notebook, Scotch-taped to a three hole-punched piece of wrinkled paper. My apple tarte tartin is one, for which I am known to make every year for Christmas.
And, so, upon you telling me `about your new blog, Amanda, and seeing you have a recipe submission button -- I’m contributing my high-fat, high-heaven apple dish to your community. Congrats on Food52; it’s beautiful. Along with William Safire’s great word soliloquies, I’m sad that you’re no longer at the NYT. I have relished your slightly quirky and always elegant take on the edible for the paper and magazine, but this seems like a wonderful endeavor. And, well, you are irreplaceable, so too bad for them!
Alyson’s Apple Tarte Tartin
6 large green apples (in my opinion, the tartness of green is so much better than reds)
14 tablespoons salted butter (don’t listen to cooks who say you must bake with sweet butter – I like the salt)
2/3 cup white sugar
7 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups flour (sift it!)
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons lard
7-10 tablespoons ice cold water
Use Pepperidge Farm’s Filo Dough (mucho easier, faster and perfectly delicious)
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup water
Cut apples in half. Cut out the cores in a “V” shape. Cut off both ends so they are square. Peel them.
Combine butter, brown and white sugar into a thick paste. Divide in half.
Using a high-sided iron Dutch oven, smush the butter mixture thickly on the bottom and sides of the iron. Note: you can use other kinds of pans, but the heavier the better and the sides should be a minimum of twice the height of the apples. Believe me, it took me years to figure out the perfection, specifically, of using a Dutch oven for this. If it overflows, the caramelizing procedure will create an incredible mess in your oven and you’ll create such a thick smoke in the house, you’ll smell it for weeks. You might even attract the fire department, which, if you’re single, may not be a bad thing….
Arrange apples with one of the cut, squared sides down, front to back until they are packed together in a petal like fashion around the edges of the Dutch oven. Think of how bodies might be squished together for a photo with people’s back’s pressed against other’s chests. There should be no space between them and tightly packed in. Do the same in a circle inside this row toward the center of the pan, until all apples are packed in on their sides. Take the rest of the butter/sugar paste and crumble over the apples. There should be plenty of paste; be generous with it.
For your own dough, sift together flour and salt. Cut in lard and toss with a fork until combined. Add tablespoons (one at a time) of iced cold water and toss to form a loose dough. Gather dough into ball and roll out into ¼” thickness. Cut dough to cover apples (easiest to use the Dutch oven or baking dish cover to measure!). Cover applies with dough, tucking edges between the apples and the side of the pan. Slit dough in center to air to escape.
Now, take the batteries out of your smoke alarms and make sure you oven is lined with foil.
Preheat oven to 450. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remove dish from oven and increase heat to 550. Cover dish and return to oven and bake for one hour. To check is tartin is done, tilt dish and liquid should have caramelized and look like dark brown honey. Remove from oven and cool. DO NOT REFRIGERATE, otherwise, you’ll never get it out of the pan. Keep it at room temperate for a couple of hours until pan is cool enough to touch with bare hands.
Put a large serving plate over the Dutch oven. Over the sink – flip it. Let it sit until all the apples fall onto the plate. Carefully remove the Dutch oven and pray the apples are still in a nice petal-like pattern. If some are still stuck, carefully scrape out and try to fit into the pattern. If not, no worries, it’ll taste the same. I am famous for my crooked cakes, but also for how amazing they taste!
Now you must refrigerate the tartin, which should now be seated on top of the dough. You must get the apples cool enough to grab the glaze and let it harden into a candy like texture. An hour should be enough, just make sure the apples are cool to the touch before adding the glaze.
Combine ½ cup white sugar and a bit of water in a heavy small saucepan. Cook on high heat on stove until if caramelized. It should take 5-8 minutes or so, it will slightly smoke and turn color to a dark brown. As it starts to turn from a golden honey to a dark honey color and smoke a bit, turn down the heat and let it transform into a dark brown honey like color. It may appear that it’s burning -- it is actually, but there is a fine line between caramelized and burnt. Pour immediately over the tartin. The coolness of the apples will grab the glaze to harden into a candy like texture and hold the apples together.
Place heavy cream into metal or glass bowl (not plastic as it will not firm up). Place hand whipper in at high speed until the cream begins to turn from liquid to a firm whipped cream texture. Add a bit of sugar to taste to the sweetness you like. Go easy on, as the sugar in the apples is intense and so a more plain cream is preferable as a condiment.
Serve and repeat the story above. Tell them it was you. They’ll believe it, especially since by dessert time, your guests should have had enough wine to smile at anything you tell them.