Pear tarte tatin is a lovely Thanksgiving twist on the classic French caramelized apple tart.
Oatmeal, the Secret Ingredient
I’m honestly not crazy about apple pie, but I love tarte tatin. My favourite version comes from an old Bon Appetit magazine (Oct 1996 edition, to be exact), that uses oatmeal in the crust. I know it’s not traditional, and a French pastry chef would probably sneer, but the crust is so delicate, rich and toothsome. It’s also very easy to work with. I like this recipe so much that I’ve made it at least once a season for 22 years.
Tarte tatin requires an oven-safe 10” skillet. The recipe specifies cast iron, but mine is stainless steel. The important thing is that this is one situation where a non-stick pan won’t work, plus you have to make sure that the handle is oven-safe.
Upside Down Tart
The method for tarte tatin is different than a normal pie or tart. It’s essentially an upside down tart. First you caramelize the brown sugar and butter in the skillet on the stove top. Then you arrange the fruit slices in a beautiful pin wheel design. Don’t worry, this isn’t hard to do and boy does it look beautiful. Then you cook the fruit in the caramel a bit to remove some of the liquid, roll the crust and spread it over the top of the pan. Pop it in the oven, et voila!
When it comes out of the oven you have to flip it over onto a serving dish right away, while it’s still warm. Once I made the mistake of leaving it in the pan and, um, the caramel topping hardened as the pan cooled, so the pie wouldn’t release from the pan. Oops. (The problem was easily fixed by popping the pan back into a warm oven to remelt the topping).
Acid Adds Balance
Over the years, I’ve made a couple of changes to my beloved Bon Appetit recipe:
- The recipe specifically calls for Golden Delicious apples (!!!!!) BAD IDEA. I hate Delicious apples. They are tasteless and fall apart when baked. My absolute favourite baking apples are Northern Spys. I haunt farmer’s markets waiting for the Northern Spys to come out, and when they do, I run home and get the crust started. If you don’t have Northern Spys in your area, try Gravensteins. They are good bakers too.
- I frequently swap out pears for the apples, which is what I did in this year’s version, pictured here. I used the last of the Niagara Bartlett pears from the farmer’s market. I do find that pears can release more liquid during the cooking, so you may have to simmer it o the stovetop longer than the time limit in the recipe. The important thing is that the liquid in the pan have a syrupy consistency before you put the crust on top.
- I add lemon juice to the pan to counter-balance the sweetness of the caramel topping, and I double the lemon peel.
- 1/3 cup quick or minute oats ((not instant))
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 4 tbsp ice water, approx
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon peel
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 1/2 pounds apples or pears
Blend oats and sugar in food processor until oats are finely ground. Blend in flour and salt. Add butter and process using pulses, until mixture is coarsely mealy. Mix in ice water by the tablespoon until the mixture begins to clump together. Note: if you aren’t sure, err on the side of a bit wetter rather than dryer. It is important that the crust hold together. Stickiness can be managed, but a crust that won’t hold together is a much bigger problem. Gather dough into a ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or up to 2 days. Soften at room temperature before rolling.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Peel and core the fruit, and cut vertically into quarters. Leave aside while you prepare the caramel topping.
Melt butter with lemon juice in a heavy 10″ oven-safe skillet (not non-stick). Mix in the sugars and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture bubbles, about 2 minutes. Mix in lemon peel and remove from heat.
Arrange the fruit slices in concentric circles in the pan. The recipe tells you to start from the outside ring, but I always start in the center because that’s the most important part of the design to get right. Put your most beautifully perfect and symmetrical slices in the center ring. If you have any extra after you have finished making your rings, you can scatter it on top. Remember, the pie will be turned upside down to serve, so only the slices touching the pan will be visible at the end.
Put the pan back on the stove at medium heat and cook 3 minutes; cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the cover and cook until the fruit juices and sugar form a syrup but the fruit is still intact and hasn’t disintegrated, about 10 minutes. (Note: when I use pears, I find they give off more liquid than apples, so this step frequently takes about 20 minutes instead of 10). Remove from heat.
Roll out the dough between two sheets of waxed paper, parchment paper, or silicon rolling mats. Loosen the dough from whichever backing you have chosen so that you will be able to peel it off easily, and entirely remove one of the backing sheets. Using the remaining backing sheet to help you hold the dough, flip it over so the dough is face down on top of the warm fruit. Peel off the backing sheet and press pastry edges down and inside the pan around the fruit.
Bake until crust is deep golden, about 40 minutes. Using small knife, cut around the edge to loosen the crust from the pan. Let stand 1 minute.
Place large platter over skillet. Using oven mitts, hold the serving platter tightly on top of the fry pan and then flip them quickly upside down so that the tart releases from the pan and drops onto the plate. Rearrange any fruit that shifted position when you did the flip. Cut into wedges. I prefer to serve this warm, but it is also delicious at room temperature.