This is a classic French dessert that is said to have been invented by the Tatin sisters in the 1880s. The story goes that one of them was making a fruit tart but burnt the apples, so she tried to cover up her mistake by placing some pastry over the top and putting it back in the oven.
Whether true or not, the upside-down apple tart was born and it has become a regular on pudding menus the world over, a kind of universal dessert in the land of sweet things.
You can make tarte tatin with whatever orchard fruit you fancy – pears work particularly well – but I prefer to stick to the traditional apples. I do give them an extra something, though, by coating them lightly in nutmeg. The fruity spice really lifts the flavour and combines brilliantly with the fruit and the caramel. Ginger and cinnamon both work well, too.
I love this pudding, but a word of warning: the first time I made it, years ago, I whacked my plastic-handled frying pan straight into the oven and had to evacuate the house because of the stench of burnt plastic. The tart had no chance of being edible after being infused with that smell, so make sure you use a pan that is suitable for the oven.
A frying pan is the ideal shape because it is easier to turn the tart out onto a plate, but you could use a deeper casserole dish if that’s all you have to hand. It doesn’t really matter, as long it can go from hob to oven.
Take care when turning the tart out. The apples will have released lots of juice and leaving it to cool will thicken it slightly. There will also be less risk of burning yourself on hot caramel, although if you are accident prone, like me, you will manage to burn yourself on cold caramel as well.
Apple and nutmeg tarte tatin
300g ready-made puff pastry
6 dessert apples (approx 900g)
1 tsp nutmeg
100g golden caster sugar
85g unsalted butter
½ tsp salt
1 Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it is 3mm thick, then cut into a circle that is 24cm in diameter.
2 Prick the pastry all over with a fork, place on a baking tray and leave to chill in the fridge while you cook the apples.
3 Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle over the nutmeg, stir and set aside.
4 Sprinkle the sugar evenly into a 20cm ovenproof frying pan and place on a medium heat. Cook the sugar until it turns into caramel. Do not be tempted to stir it – if the sugar is browning unevenly, swirl the pan to redistribute it.
5 Take the pan off the heat and add 60g butter and the salt and stir through. Add the apples one piece at a time, arranging them tightly in the pan.
6 Melt the remaining 25g butter in the microwave or in a small pan and brush the tops of the apples. Place the frying pan in the oven and bake the apples for 30 minutes. They should be soft and the caramel bubbling.
7 Remove the pastry from the fridge and lay it on top of the apples. Tuck it in around the edge of the frying pan. Pierce a hole in the centre to allow the steam to escape and place back in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes.
8 The pastry will have puffed up and become golden. Leave the tart to cool in the pan for at least an hour – the juices will be molten hot.
9 Turn the tart out onto a serving dish that has raised sides to catch any excess juices. Cut into wedges and serve with a generous dollop of crème fraîche.