I took this apple tarte tatin, that wasn’t so much a tarte tatin at all, to a lovely dinner party of Sunday night. What was so fun about this tart was that I cooked the apples in a cast iron skillet with butter and sugar before I left the house. I let them cook in the pan while I rolled out a 10-inch circle of pie crust. I packaged up the cast iron skillet and the pie dough and we went to the dinner party. After dinner, I heated up the apples on our hosts stove, and tucked the refrigerated crust over the slightly warm apples, then popped the whole thing in the oven for 30 minutes. When the crust was browned and the juices underneath bubbling, I took the skillet from the oven, let it sit for a few minutes, then turned all of the warm apples and buttery crust upsidedown and onto a serving dish. Everyone was super impressed, and I made their home smell like apple pie, which is just an added bonus. This is the kind of dish that will get you invited for dinner again and again.
To talk about this tart we really should talk about pie crust. I used to be intimidated by pie crust: was I cutting the butter right? Am I adding enough buttermilk? How do I know if it will be flaky? Pie crust has very simple ingredients: butter, flour, sugar, salt and liquid. The secret is the technique of bring all those things together. So no more intimidation for me. I learned a technique that involves rolling the cold, cubed butter out with a rolling pin, creating flattened butter sheets, that ensures a flaky crust every time.
Flaky Pie Crust
makes 2, 9 to 10-inch pie doughs
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter
2 1/2 (12 ounces) cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (5 to 6 ounces) buttermilk
1. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and place in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. Measure out the buttermilk and store in the refrigerator to keep it cold (you could even put it in the freezer for a few minutes too).
2. Sift together the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Take the cold butter from the freezer and toss it with the flour mixture.
3. Dump the cold butter cubes and flour mixture onto a large work area for rolling. With a rolling pin, roll the mixture, flattening the butter cubes with the flour into long, thin, floured butter sheets. Work quickly to ensure that the butter stays cold. Below is what the rolled butter and flour look like after I’ve gathered them together on the work surface a bit.
4. Place the flour and flattened butter back in the large bowl and chill for 10 minutes. When the butter is cold, remove the bowl from the refrigerator, make a small well in the center of the flour and butter mixture. Add the cold buttermilk to the bowl all at once. Begin to bring the dough together with one hand ( keep the other hand free to answer the phone). Moisten all of the flour with the milk, using your hand to break up large clumps of milk and flour. The dough will be rather shaggy, but you can add another tablespoon of buttermilk, if you see that all your flour isn’t moistened. Form the dough into two disks. The disks will be rough, and hard to shape together, but once they rest in the fridge for an hour, they’ll be easier to roll out.
5. Chill the dough for at least an hour in the refrigerator. At this point, the dough will keep in the fridge for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to three weeks. For freezing, roll the dough out into sheets and wrap them in plastic film.
Apples for Tart
7 Fuji apples, medium size, peeled and cored and cut into fourths
3- 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon.
1. Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter in a 9 or 10-inch cast iron, or oven safe skillet. When the foam subsides, add the apple chunks, arranging them so they fit snugly together and fan out around the pan.
2. Cook the apples, over medium low heat, without stirring the apples to disturb the pattern. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top, and add the remaining tablespoon of butter. Lastly, sprinkle the cinnamon on top. ( I periodically lifted an apple slice to see how it was browning, and notices that the center of the pan was browning faster than the edges of the pan. To correct for this, I simply positioned the edges of the pan more directly over the flame, moving the pan over the flame until all the apples were slightly browned.)
3. Cook the apples until they are slightly browned on the bottom, about 15 minutes. A knife inserted into the apples will reveal a firm apple, that’s great! They’ll cook completely in the oven. Remove the pan from the flame and let the apples and the pan cool.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out one disk of pie dough into a 9 or 10- inch circle. Put the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes before the next step. Carefully pick up the pie dough and place it over the apples in the cast iron skillet. Tuck the dough down along the inside of the pan, next to the apples. Brush the top of the dough with ice water.
5. Place the cast iron skillet on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Place the baking sheet and the skillet in the oven to bake, turning the oven down to 400 degrees F just after you put the tart in. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned, and the juices bubbling.
6 . Remove the pan and skillet from the oven. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. Run a blunt butter knife along the edges of the pan, separating the crust from the pan. Place a large serving platter over the cast iron skillet, and, using pot holders, invert the tart out onto the platter. If an apple or two stick to the pan, just fish them out and place them nicely on the tart. Serve immediately with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
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