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Food Network Favorites: Apple Tarte Tatin

Ugh. A disaster from beginning to end. The final results are nowhere near good enough to justify all the difficulties I had with this recipe: the milk solids in the butter burned; the caramel crystallized; the apples stuck to the pan. If you really want a dessert that combines apples and puff pastry, I've got a suggestion that's much better than this mess.

Emeril Lagasse's recipes in Food Network Favorites tend to be a bit casual when it comes to the instructions. This recipe is a perfect, horrible example. Lagasse's instructions for making caramel are: "Melt the butter in a pan over high heat. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar melts and then caramelizes to an amber color, swirling the skillet, if necessary, for even browning. (Do not stir or sugar may crystallize.)" Oy, where to begin? On my first attempt, the milk solids in the butter started browning before the sugar was even halfway melted, which resulted in burnt-tasting caramel. On the second try, the sugar crystallized and couldn't be salvaged, even though I didn't stir it. I was finally able to get an evenly melted, unburnt caramel by melting the butter over low heat, increasing the heat to high, adding the sugar in an even layer in the pan, and vigorously swirling. There's no question of swirling being an "if necessary" step -- it's absolutely essential if you don't want to burn the butter. Emeril's instructions are not nearly detailed enough.

Once I had caramel that I could use, I proceeded with the recipe, which involved cooking halved apples in the caramel for about 15 minutes, then removing them, reducing the caramel to a syrup, adding the apples back to the pan, covering them with a sheet of puff pastry, and baking the whole thing in the oven. Once the pastry is golden, you remove the pan from the oven and invert the tart onto a platter, so that the pastry is on the bottom and the apples are on the top. A traditional tarte tatin is made by carefully layering sliced apples in the pan, arranging them in a pattern that looks pretty when the tart is unmolded. Lagasse's version isn't so pretty, since he uses apple halves, not slices. At least 50% of the apples stuck to the pan when I inverted the tart. They had to be pulled out of the skillet and placed back onto the pastry base. And quite honestly, it was an ugly little tart, with a sad bunch of big apples sort of hanging out on a piece of puff pastry whose edges were randomly sticking up here and there (since the recipe's instructions regarding the pastry say merely to "tuck the edges into the skillet, carefully folding or pushing the overhang down tightly around the apples.") There isn't a photo of the finished tart in the book, and after seeing my own results, I'm not surprised. It was difficult to eat, and didn't taste particularly exciting either. This is not a successful version of this classic dessert.

I've given the recipe below as it's written in the book, since I don't think it's worth bothering to try to improve it. If you'd like to make a dessert with the same basic ingredients, try the galette recipe at the bottom of the page. It's an idea adapted from the quick dessert ideas page in Donna Hay's Off the Shelf . It's much prettier, easier to eat, and simpler to prepare.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 to 60 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

6 to 8 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and halved
Juice of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 8-ounce sheet frozen puff pastry
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl toss the apples with the lemon juice and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 9- or 10 inch oven-safe skillet over high heat. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar melts and then caramelizes to an amber color, swirling the skillet, if necessary, for even browning. (Do not stir or sugar may crystallize.) Remove the skillet from the heat.

Place the apples, rounded sides down, in one layer in the caramel. Cover the skillet and return to the heat. Cook over medium-low heat until the apples are almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cover and carefully remove the apples with a slotted spoon, leaving the juices behind. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the juices have reduced and are thick and syrupy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then arrange the apples back in the pan, round sides down.

Let puff pastry dough sit at room temperature until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch-diameter round about 3/16 inch thick. Place the dough on top of the hot apples and tuck the edges into the skillet, carefully folding or pushing the overhang down tightly around the apples. Cut several slits in the pastry.

Bake until pastry is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove tart from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the skillet, then place a large platter over the skillet and carefully invert the tart onto the platter, giving the skillet a sharp tap if necessary. Place any apples remaining in the skillet on the tart. Cool slightly and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Apple Galettes , adapted from Off the Shelf
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough (half of a 17.3 oz. package, such as Pepperidge Farm)
About 2 to 3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 or 2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and halved
About 2 Tbsp melted butter
Demerara, turbinado, or other washed raw sugar
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Let the puff pastry sit out until it is pliable but not warm, about 10 minutes. Unfold the sheet and slice it into thirds lengthwise along the creases where it was folded. Slice the 3 pieces in half crosswise, so that you have 6 pieces of puff pastry, each about 4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide. Place the puff pastry pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Slice the apple halves thinly into half-moon shapes. Sprinkle about 1 to 2 tsp of ground almonds on each pastry base. Arrange the apple slices on top of the almonds, overlapping slightly. Carefully brush the apples with melted butter, then sprinkle each galette with about 1 tsp of sugar. Bake until the pastry is golden and apples are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Turn oven off, sprinkle each galette with about 1 tsp additional sugar, and let sit in the warm oven for about 5 minutes, or until sugar is somewhat melted. Remove from oven and cool slightly, then serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Yields 6 galettes.



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