We’ve made it all the way to the Foolproof Tarte Tatin, our 32nd bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person. This recipe felt so far away and so daunting when we first started this project but with Loaves and Single Layer Cakes and over half of Pies and Tarts under our belts, we’re really starting to feel our confidence levels grow.
GONE CANOEING. Check back for updates!
We made a Tarte Tatin! This was the very first Dessert Person video Claire put out when she started her YouTube series, and it looks and sounds so fancy, that I kind of can’t believe I made one. It looks and sounds really intimidating—puff pastry, dry caramel, multi-step preparation of different components, flipping delicate layers of apple and crispy pastry in a piping hot cast iron skillet—but five months in to this Dessert Person journey, I realize I’ve done most of these things already. Make rough puff from scratch: check. Make caramels: check. Create glazes: check. While this bake was definitely time-consuming, it wasn’t as scary or difficult as I thought it might be. Minus the flip. That is no joke.
Baking a Tarte Tatin feels like a master class in patience—something I am typically NOT very good at, but honing my baking skills has definitely helped. The first step is preparing the apples, and while this might seem pretty basic, even that requires that you just sort of slowww down. Trim both ends of each apple; peel the apples; cut the apples in half; core and trim the centre of each apple. This part alone took a good half hour I would say. Once you have all your apples, you place them upright in a cast iron skillet, pour brandy, maple syrup, and apple cider vinegar over them with a dash of salt, and roast for an hour to an hour and a half until they’ve softened. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the farthest thing from a picky eater—I’ll try anything and typically really enjoy all types of foods—but the one thing that really grinds my gears is mushy fruit. If it’s veering on under-ripe, I’m into it. The crunchier and crispier the better. If it’s even slightlyyyy soft and edging on grainy or overly sweet, I’m not touching it. So, suffice to say, I went with roasting my apples on the lesser end of the suggested times. I was still able to poke through them, and they’d softened up nicely, but I wanted to make sure that after the second round of baking, they still had some structure to them.
After roasting the apples, they cool on a plate in the fridge while you bring the remaining juices to a solid simmer until they’ve thickened into a glaze. Once you have your glaze, it is poured into a container and set aside. Then, the skillet gets a quick rinse and you move on to making the dry caramel. See what I mean about patience?
While we’ve made wet caramel a few times already, this was my first stab at a dry caramel, and I thought the process was so cool! With a dry caramel, there’s no water or other liquid to help the sugar along. The sugar is sprinkled in an even layer into the hot skillet and gradually melts down into a liquid, amber-coloured form. You continue to add another layer of sugar over the melted sugar bit by bit (again… patience) until you have a fully liquefied, thick, beautiful caramel. It’s hard to imagine sugar and heat coming together in this way until you’re standing over your skillet watching it happen yourself, but man is it satisfying. At the very end, the skillet comes off the heat, and salt, vanilla, and cubes of butter are added in (again… bit by bit…) to add richness and bring the whole caramel together.
At this point, you let the caramel sit in the skillet for a little while, in an even layer, until it has hardened. Claire says you can do all of these things in stages over many days, and I can see why because there is a LOT of wait time involved in this recipe; I had a rainy day on my hands so I just went with it and made everything at once while I was chilling around the house. At this point, you take your roasted apples out of the fridge and place them on top of the cooled caramel layer rounded side down. Squeezing them in nice and tight and slightly overlapping is how you end up with that gorgeous top layer once the tart is flipped over.
Now it’s time to bring out the puff pastry. If we had to make more rough puff from scratch, I probably would have done that the day before or earlier that morning (adding on another 3+ hours to the full bake time of this tart), but luckily I still had a batch of the pastry in my freezer from when Lauren and I made the other Apple Tart a few weeks ago. All I had to do was take it out and let it defrost in my fridge that morning and it was ready to use! Massive time-saver. I rolled out my defrosted rough puff, cut it into a circle, poked the whole thing over with a fork, and then gently placed it over the apples, tucking the pastry in around the edges between the apples and the skillet.
I had a slight moment of panic as my tart was baking. By this point, a massive thunderstorm had started and the power was starting to flicker. The last thing you want when you’ve spent HOURS patiently preparing all of these little elements of this fancy tart is to have it all go down the rails at the very end. I had about 20 minutes left of baking time when I lost power and had a mini heart attack, but luckily it flipped back on after a minute or so and all was not lost.
Speaking of mini heart attacks, one of the final steps in this bake is flipping your tart over. This was STRESSFUL. There are so many juices floating around because of the apples and the caramel, and the puff pastry is so delicate, that you just never know what you’re going to end up with. The skillet is also SO heavy and so hot that you really need to work quickly. I’d watched Claire’s video earlier that day to psych myself up and followed her method of placing a wire rack over the skillet, holding the rack and skillet together at both ends with a cloth, holding the whole contraption over the sink, flipping quickly, letting the juices run out, and then placing it down on the counter and slowly removing the skillet to reveal your creation. For as stressful as this process is, wow is the thrill of that reveal ever worth it. This tart is BEAUTIFUL and looks so impressive. My thin, crispy layers of puff pastry had curled up nicely around the edges, the apples were perfectly plumped up and roasted, and the caramel coated the whole thing in this amazing colour and shine.
You’d think this would be the end but, alas, this tart requires ONE MORE STEP after the flip, and that’s bringing out the glaze you made 500 years ago and gently brushing it over the warm apples. According to Claire, the tart is best served warm and I had some friends over that night, so we were able to enjoy it together fresh from the oven!
It’s always a good feeling to be really proud of something you’ve done, and with this being such an involved recipe and one of the more technical bakes we’ve done so far—simply because of all the steps and methods required—I really felt great about the results. It’s such a wonderful combination of textures: the flaky pastry, the sweet caramel, the warm, soft apples, and the finishing touch of the glaze on top. It’s not too sweet, super comforting, and just all around delicious. I think I would choose the previous Apple Tart over this one, but would still bring a Tarte Tatin to any dinner party (assuming I have a billion hours to kill beforehand!). 4.5 stars from me!
Next week we’ll be making the Sour Cherry Pie and—SPOILER ALERT—we may or may not finally be baking together in person!! Stay tuned for a potential Sisters&Saffitz reunion!