I’ve been holding out on you.
It’s simply criminal that I haven’t yet shared this recipe. It really is. If I were to list the elements of the crime of recipe withholding (and I’ll soon be writing a LOT of essays on criminal elements), they’d probably be: 1) the individual tries out a new recipe for her blog; 2) the individual falls head-over-heels for the product of said recipe; 3) the individual gets a case of finals brain and doesn’t share the fruits of her cast-iron pan with her kind readers; 4) the individual had a mens rea of reckless selfishness.
Caramelizing is one of those techniques that used to make me nervous. There is a bit of potential for things to go wrong–you stir the caramelizing sugar with a spoon instead of swirling, and it gets hard as a rock; your heat is up too high and you end up with crispy black onions instead of soft golden ones; you end up burning sugar onto your pan, and life for that pan is never the same again– but, really, who cares. The wonders of chemistry make caramelized things so much richer and more luscious and lead to a complete transformation of flavors and texture. It’s worth an impaired pot or two. And when you get your pots from Ikea, you can stand to be a little brave every once in a while.
I’d been saving this recipe up for a long time, after finding it at Sweet Amandine. At first, I didn’t have a cast iron pan. That glaring error was corrected at christmastime, but by then, it wasn’t pear season anymore. And then, when I found some pears, it’s possible that they were just too luscious to bake. My love for fresh, ripe, good pears runs awfully deep.
Ok, ok ok. And now, it is April, and I have a pan, and I stumble upon some pears in Whole Foods. Pears in April? Not usually, but, there they were. And I even had a round of pate brisee in the freezer from the below recipe. I knew what needed to happen.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, those darn pears were rotten in the middle. My standard stockpile of Braeburn apples, to the rescue!
This recipe couldn’t be more basic, more reliant on ancient ingredients and techniques. And yet, it couldn’t be more lovely. I implore you to try this. I plead, please make a batch of Deb’s blissful pie dough, and don’t mix it too much. If you’ve never made your own caramel, or if you’ve never hovered over a bubbling pan of apples and butter and sugar and spices, inhaling that rich scent, watching the gorgeous golden bubbles pop, then, well, I order you: hie thee to your crisper, fetch a few apples, and go to town, friend.
Mind you, she was no beauty queen–and it being 11 at night certainly didn’t help me get a good photo. If I made another (and I most certainly will), I’d probably cook it over slightly higher heat–probably just at medium. I cooked my caramel apple mixture for a long time, turning some of my thinner apple slices into transparent, sugar-saturated sheets dotted with nutmeg. This worked for me, actually. But you might want a little bit more apple-like texture to your apples, and so, cook them slightly less long.
Pear Apple Tarte Tatin
Adapted from Sweet Amandine, who adapted it from Gourmet, November 2003, where it was adapted from a recipe by Betty Caldwell. It has a good legacy.
4 apples, on the bigger side (I’d recommend something slightly tart and citrusy; Braeburn worked well for me, but I wouldn’t use Granny Smith)
½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
a round of pâte brisée from your freezer, where one should always be living.
Core, peel, and slice the apples into eighths. Over a medium flame, melt the butter in a 9 or 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Add the sugar, and stir to form a grainy paste (something that may or may not bring on the urge to exfoliate, as I mentioned, above). Arrange the apples, cut sides up. Sprinkle the apples with the cinnamon and ginger, and cook until the sugar mixture caramelizes and turns a deep amber. I allowed it to bubble away over a medium-low flame for at least a half an hour, tilting the skillet every now and then, and scooching it around on the burner to ensure that the sugar caramelizes evenly. Let the apples and caramel cool completely in the skillet.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Roll out the pâte brisée into a round large enough to cover the skillet, and drape it over the apples. Tuck the edges of the dough into the inside rim of the skillet. I couldn’t get all of the pate brisee in the pan, but I thought that having a nice crust of uncaramelized crust around the edge would be tasty (and I wasn’t wrong). Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
Let the tarte cool in the skillet for 5 minutes. Then, place a plate (slightly larger than the skillet) over the skillet and, using pot holders to hold the skillet and plate tightly together and holding your breath, invert the tarte onto the plate. Serve the tarte warm or at room temperature.