"Honey, you can make me one of those for my birthday" I heard E exclaim after watching Anne Burrell whip up a tarte tatin on The Food Network. Even though it required me to face my culinary nemesis, caramelizing sugar, I replied "Sure dear, no problem."
The day before her birthday, I went to grab "The Joy of Cooking" off the shelf as that would certainly have a recipe for a tarte tatin. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied "The Bouchon Cookbook". Still on a bit of a high after the dinner at Per Se, I grabbed it off the shelf. I paged through the stunning photography on my way to the index. Talk about food porn! This cookbook should be sold in a plain brown wrapper. Anyway, a quick scan of the index had me turning to the pages with the recipe.
The recipe wasn't that difficult, just a bit time consuming. The recipe for the pate brise was unusual, but it worked. You mixed half the flour with all the butter till it was combined. The rest of the flour was then added and mixed. A quarter cup of ice water was added and the dough was mixed until it just came together. Usually water is added gradually to take into account humidity, temperature and other variables. In this case, just chuck all the water in. Hey, it's Thomas Keller's recipe, I'm pretty sure he knows what he is doing. I divided the dough into two parts. I put one in the freezer for another project down the road, the other went into the fridge for the next day's tarte.
Many recipes for tarte tatin have you make the caramel first then add the apples. In this recipe, the sugar, butter and apples are added to the pan and a caramel is slowly achieved. I need to emphasize the slowly part. This step took about one hour. The recipe mentioned the length of this step, so I was prepared. It did not prepare me for how hard it would be to gauge the state of the caramelizing. With about three pounds of apples crammed into the pan, it was hard to judge what was going on in the bottom of the pan. Chef Keller stated that a dark amber color needs to be achieved before putting the tarte into the oven as the caramel would not get any darker. Wouldn't you know I took the caramelizing just a little too far. I picked up an apple and saw a very, very, very dark amber caramel staring back at me. Keeping my caramel batting average at 0, I messed up yet again.
I grabbed the dough from the fridge that I had already rolled out into a round and folded over twice as the recipe stated. As I tried to unfold it, the dough had glued itself firmly onto the plate. I tried to gently pry it off, but it just ripped. It ripped in a big way. BIG WAY. I had to re-roll out the dough, hoping that the extra work would not make the crust tough. I got the newly formed disk on top of the apples and popped it in the oven, hoping for the best.
I pulled it from the oven when the crust was nice and golden. I let it sit for 30 minutes before unmolding as the recipe said. I slid a knife around the perimeter and inverted the pan on a plate. About 1/3 of the tarte decided that it liked it much better in the pan than on this nice white plate and stayed behind. I muttered a few words, gee willekers not among them. I heard E on the phone with her mother, "No we haven't had the tarte tatin yet. I hear John swearing so something hasn't gone right."
I manged to piece things together pretty well. I cut off the best looking piece I could find to serve to E. A little vanilla ice cream goes a long way in prettying up things. We both took a bite and.....it was good. You could taste that the caramel was took dark, but E seemed to love it. She is not shy in expressing her opinions about my cooking, so I have to believe her. But all I could see was the caramel mocking me. One day caramel, one day!