I was standing in the midst of a dying garden of hydrangeas and bittersweetwhen my mother-in-law emerged from the 19th-century Czech farmhouse carrying a crate of apples she received from a neighbor’s orchard. “Take them!” she encouraged in a loud mumble, out from her lips that perched a dainty cigarette. Although I couldn’t exactly catch all her Czech, her enthusiasm to get this crate immediately in my arms was rather universal. “Now what the.. am I going to do with all these?” I wondered as I stood with my arms sagging. She scurried by in her leopard leggings and black parka. “Yep, soooo, taking these home.” I exhaled. “Done deal, Adam – be gracious.” If there weren’t 25 apples than there wasn’t 1, I would say.
That Saturday afternoon she had also managed to load us up with homemade pickled mushrooms, jarred red peppers, husked corn, dumplings and meats in cream sauces, and even a bouquet of “podzima” flowers. I was flattered by her kindness but felt that once we got back to Prague, everything would go off by Tuesday and the guilt of not consuming these countryside gifts would override my gratitude. I was determined to figure something marvelous out. But what? My culinary creativity these days has been on fumes. But I exaggerate.
I must admit it has been quite a long time since I blogged. Regretfully, I haven’t made the time – neither for writing or some meaningful cooking moments to share with you. During October, the husband and I managed to throw a costume party, he traveled to Luxembourg so cooking for one wasn’t exactly the easiest (I had to chuck an amazing chicken pot pie the other day after I didn’t finish it in time), and a crash diet I embarked on in October, pissing everyone off in my path with my crusade for healthy living and a non-butter lifestyle. Well the latter did not last (as they naturally never do) and now I am back on track – on the autumn rails with a bucket of seasonal apples to cook!
So what does one do when in need of inspiration? How do you find your way back into your apron? “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” of course! My Holy Bible. Julia, my Yankee-spirited, no-nonsense gourmand with “the power of [her] conviction!” Flipping through the encyclopedic reference it hit me like cast-iron skillet – tarte tatin! Of course! The Apple 101 of pastry cooking that all home cooks should master and add to their fall repertoire. So I hopped-to, put on my boots, and headed out onto the cobblestone streets and into the shops.
Well, a funny thing happened in my quest to create the perfect “tarte tatin” (said in an extravagant French accent that I oddly harass the husband with). I was shopping for the apricot preserves in a rather expensive Viennese gourmet shop (now with a great sale running – <<cue advertisement jingle>>). Between the wide breadth of jam & jelly selection and sale signs, I found myself distracted and unable to read the German labels to get my required ingredients. “What the.. wait, is it “pfirsich” or is apricot “himbeere” in German? “Adam, damn…” I mumbled. I ended up leaving empty-handed. Woe!
But, half-way home it hit me … its “aprikose!” Well, too late now. “Scheiße!”
My New England Julia didn’t fail me and all was not lost, though. I sat on the couch, reopened my cookbook and found “La Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin” – an inverted apple tart baked in a pastry and can be created without all those “fancy” preserves. (Oscar Wilde once said anyway, “Life is too short to learn German.”) I put my apron on last night, grabbed that crate of apples and began to peel, core, and quarter them until I had 10 cups. My mother-in-law’s spirit beside me, I had an awfully fun time alone with holiday music and my boxer Otto looking on loyally beside me in his warm companionship.
This satisfying recipe is not too complicated, is delightfully rustic, and a charming dessert to pair with a coffee should company visit. The warm pastry crust it flips onto gives the tart that satisfying texture to off-set the baked apples. Served with vanilla bean ice cream and it’s out of sight. Apples are in season too which make it the ideal time to learn how to master cooking with apples. Depending on where you live, apples vary considerably in regions so be sure to pick the right apples to cook with! The flavor in this tart that exudes from the apples is extraordinary. After baking for approximately 60 minutes until the apples caramelize, you flip it out over a fireproof plate and serve immediately. It was a sheer delight. I kept thinking my mother back in Connecticut would love it. She would have had 2 slices for sure.
So put this down and get to your grocer! You will love this French recipe and I am happy to be back on this blog to bring you much more this November!
La Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin (Upside-down Apple Tart)
A Julia Child favorite, the famous tarte tatin from The Bell Kitchen
4 lbs apples; peeled, cored & quartered (such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Cox, etc)
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
6 ounces melted butter (170 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C
Arrange the rack on the lower 2/3
Begin to peel, core, and quarter your apples. Cut carefully into 1/8 inch slices. Add them to 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon mix in a bowl, tossing as you go along
Butter your baking dish liberally, ensuring the bottom is nicely buttered so the apples will caramelize - same for the sides for quick, easy inversion
Sprinkle 1/4c of the sugar to the buttered dish. Begin to arrange apple slices in a circular pattern - the bottom will be inverted so be sure to arrange the first layer precisely; this is your top to serve
When you fill 1/3 of the pan with apples, add 1/3 of the butter. Repeat this step until the dish is full of apples
Sprinkle the remaining sugar/cinnamon mix on top of the apples from your bowl with any juices
Roll out the dough and cover the dish, tucking the dough down the sides neatly. Cut slits into the top for steam release
Bake for 45-60 minutes until the apple juices on the side are brown in color and not clear - this will indicate your apples have caramelized
If the pastry is baking too fast and approaching a burn, cover with aluminum foil
Carefully pull from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes, and carefully invert the tart onto a plate. Serve hot.
Garnish: Powdered sugar, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream