An ode to apples. And friendship.

"Surely the apple is the noblest of fruits."

Thus pronounced Henry David Thoreau, and after making tarte tatin for the first time on Saturday, I would have to agree.  In fact, I think it may be one of those rare perfect desserts.  Sweet without being sickly, very adaptable, and incredibly more-ish.  Frankly, I'm surprised that the piece I took home with me lasted until the next day.

I can't take all the credit for this one though.  It was a joint effort by me and Jenn, who I will eventually convince to stop lurking and start posting!  Amongst the many things we have in common, we share a love of all things culinary.  After lots of nice meals in good restaurants, recipe exchanges, and last year's cupcake decorating class, the logical next step was cooking together.  Truly, cooking is so much more fun when done communally.  Especially when it gives you the chance to catch up with a good friend (and cuddle her insanely adorable baby!).

After some discussion about potential recipes, we eventually settled on tarte tatin, since neither of us had made it before and it was a good opportunity to try pastry-making.  Excellent decision.  Felicity Cloake has posted a comprehensive guide to the different variations of tarte tatin on the Guardian food blog.  I can't imagine anything nicer than the one she eventually plumped for, but I'm sure it would be fun experimenting.  Anyway, we decided to go with her version, and it definitely lived up to its title.

Perfect tarte tatin

For the topping: 
7 medium sized apples (4 Cox and 3 Granny Smith worked nicely, but I'm sure any variety would do)
200g white sugar
50g butter

For the pastry:
225g plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
120g cold butter
1 medium egg, beaten

The recipe suggested halving and coring the apples, and then leaving the fridge uncovered for 24 hours.  But I get impatient with delayed gratification recipes, while Jenn only remembered this instruction in the middle of the night and, eminently sensibly, decided it wasn't worth getting up for.  So I don't think it makes a blind bit of difference if you cut up the apples right before you prepare the tart.

After you've done this, put the sugar in a 20cm heavy-based ovenproof frying pan along with 50ml water and leave to soak for a couple of minutes, then cook over a medium heat until golden and fudgy. If the sugar starts to crystallise in the pan, don't worry.  I had a moment of panic when this happened, but it seems to sort itself out once you add the apples.

Take off the heat and stir in the butter and a pinch of salt, until well combined, and then carefully arrange the apples in the pan, round-side down, bearing in mind the caramel will be very hot, and put back on the heat – you may need to cut some of the apples into smaller pieces to fill in the gaps. Cook for 5 minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

If you're pressed for time, pre-prepared shortcrust or puff pastry (about 175g worth) will do.  But I'm on a mission to get everyone making their own, so sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Grate in the butter, then rub together until it is coarse crumbs.  Mix the egg with 2 tsp cold water and sprinkle over the mixture. Mix together into a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water (if required) very gradually. Shape into a ball, and then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before rolling out.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry  to 5mm thick, and cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan. Put back into the fridge to rest.  Or just keep going.  Again, this is one of those steps that I think can be skipped.  Put the pastry on top of the pan and tuck in the edges around the fruit. Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then place a plate, slightly larger than the pan, on top and then, very carefully, using oven gloves, invert the tart on to the plate. Best served warm, with crème fraîche or ice cream.

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