ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Clash of the Tatins

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Apple tarte Tatin.

About a week and a half ago, I finally got a cast-iron skillet (thanks Mom and Dad!), and ever since then, I’ve been eager to use it. I made a grilled cheese on it (the bread browned perfectly!), a batch of shrimp piri-piri (best batch yet!), and now last night, I tried my hand at apple tarte Tatin. I’d been intrigued by the dish ever since I saw Anne Burrell on the Food Network make it a few months ago, but alas, without an oven-proof pan, I hadn’t the opportunity to make it myself.
Well, with the arrival of my skillet (as well as a piece in the New York Times about the art of the Tatin), my interest in tarte Tatin was rekindled. I first dipped my toes in the Tatin waters this weekend when I made an apple cake “tatin” for a Barefoot Contessa potluck dinner. A simplified version of the real thing, Ina’s Tatin has you simply pour a caramel sauce over apples in a pie pan, top with cake batter, and stick it in the oven for forty-minutes. Don’t get me wrong — the results were delicious. However, most other Tatin recipes I’d seen on the Internets called for really browning the apples in the caramel before going into the oven. I wanted to try the method. Plus, as previously mentioned, I felt compelled to incorporate my skillet into the proceedings.
And so I attempted Anne Burrell’s recipe for an Apple Tarte Tatin. The results after the jump…

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The aforementioned cast-iron skillet. Ready for action.

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Site of a dough-saster. As per the recipe’s instructions, I made a short dough in the food processor using cold butter and flour and sugar and lemon zest and an egg yolk etc.. That was easy. But when it came time to roll it out into a pie crust, I encountered disaster. The damn dough kept sticking to every surface, no matter how much I floured it. And yes, I floured my “pin” (aka the Skyy Vodka bottle) quite a bit too. Feeling frustrated, I stuck the dough in the fridge hoping that in a chilled state it would be more cooperative…

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My apple bag. I wound up peeling and slicing two Granny Smiths and five Fujis. Don’t worry — I have a handy apple slicer from Ikea.

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Some lemon juice to toss the apple slices in so that they don’t turn brown — not that it really matters.

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That bastard dough. After two more attempts to roll it out, I gave up and resolved to use a frozen pie crust. Now I just have a mound of dough in my fridge for no good reason. In other news, to the left of the dough is a container of homemade tzatziki — Ina Garten’s recipe (highly recommended). To the right is a portobello cap marinating in a mixture offered up by Emeril. It’s like the entire Scripps Network is IN MY REFRIGERATOR.

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With the dough follies behind me, I move on to the fun part: making the tarte filling. Here I’ve put a cup of sugar, a quarter-cup of water, and the juice of half a lemon into the skillet. (The recipe called for apple cider, but I didn’t have any; so I used water. It also called for vanilla beans, but I also didn’t have any and forgot to add a dash of vanilla extract instead. Oh well. After the dough mishaps, these were only minor issues.)

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The mixture continues to bubble. Faint hues of brown appear. I steel myself for the caramel process to begin in earnest.

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Once things get really brown, I take the skillet off the heat and swirl in a STICK of butter, two pats at a time. The blurriness of this photo reflects my shaky hands. Caramel scares me.

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More butter. Not a wonderful dish for the cholesterol.

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Even more butter. I’m not gonna lie: the caramel sauce was looking pretty damn awesome.

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Lil swirls.

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And finally, the last of the butter goes in.

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Behold my artistry as I lovingly arrange apple slices in a ring.

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Et voìla!

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Back on the heat, the apples shrink down; and so I add more and more slices to fill the gaps.

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Watching apples bubble in caramel is oddly transfixing. Like Niagara Falls. But in apple form.

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Macro shot!

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Soon this bad boy is ready to go into the oven. All I have to do is roll out the pie dough!

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And now mistake #432. I forgot to thaw the dough a little, and so when I unfurled it, cracks appeared. I figured maybe it would all come together under the weight of my rolling pin. No.

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Nevertheless, I laid the dough on top of the pan, cracks and all.

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Into the oven it went at 425 degrees.

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The recipe called for a cook time of twenty to twenty-five minutes, but the combination of using a different dough mixed with my oven’s incessant need to spike up to 450 degrees meant that I could pull this sucker early at the seventeen minute mark.

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Yes, everything seemed to be going well until I realized one thing: I HAD NO PLATE TO INVERT THE TATIN ONTO!! You see, at twelve inches in diameter, this is a large skillet, and all my plates only go up to about ten inches. This was turning into a major catastrophe!

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Luckily, jash saved the day after I urgently emailed out an SOS. Turns out he had a plate big enough for the tarte; so while it cooled down, I jumped into my car and headed to his place to fetch it. Disaster averted! There was only one hurdle left: the inversion…

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Success! It was slightly messy and some of the apples fell out of place, but none sticked stuck to the skillet; so really, that’s all I could hope for.

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With a little futzing, I manage to make the tarte look a bit more presentable.

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The skillet aftermath. Surprisingly enough, cleaning this gunk out was a breeze.

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The apples, meanwhile, browned perfectly.

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Before I could eat the pie, I needed to have dinner — a hearty gorgonzola portobello burger (from the previously mentioned portobello cap) and some homemade sweet potato fries.

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Ten minutes later, I was done with dinner and ready to catch up on my DVR. What was I watching? That’s one secret I’ll never tell. xoxo GOSSIP TATIN.

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It’s heartbreaking to cut into the tarte, but it must be done.

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Time for TATIN.

The verdict? Well, let’s be honest here. Why even bother with a verdict? I mean, apples stewed in caramel? You can’t go wrong. Oddly enough, I thought it would be leagues better than Ina’s apple tatin cake, but honestly, it wasn’t a significant improvement. I mean, there certainly was more flavor in the apples, but it wasn’t a night and day difference. Additionally, the pie crust was fine, and I know I did myself a disservice by using store-bought instead of homemade, but I gotta say, I really enjoyed the cake element of Ina’s recipe. If I were to make this again, I think I’d do a hybrid of both Ina and Anne Burrell. I’d prepare the apples like Anne, but then top it with Ina’s batter. Best of both worlds (and much easier than rolling out dough). Nevertheless, aside from my issues with the crust, this tarte was super, super easy to make, and kind of fun too. It’s a definite recommend.

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21 thoughts on “ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Clash of the Tatins

  1. Good job, B! I too am a proud new owner of a cast iron skillet (Thanks, Vernon’s mom!). I’m going to try a tart tatin recipe from Cooking Light hopefully soon!

  2. Looks delicious, B! I’m curious, did you season your new cast iron skillet before using it? That would be impressive if you did.

  3. Looks really good. Are you going to share that with anyone or just eat the whole thing by yourself?

  4. SpecialK – I DID season the skillet last week.
    knnmom – I do plan to share the tarte. It will probably be gone by the end of the night.

  5. Just an FYI in case you find yourself without an oven-proof skillet on future occasion – you can make one so by putting two layers of tin foil around the handle.

  6. Most cast iron skillets come pre-seasoned these days, so you don’t need to do anything.
    BUT, you should put on a light coat of oil after hand washing / hand drying your skillet after every use.

  7. This is true, IndianJones, but many reviews online suggest seasoning anyway.
    And fear not, after hand washing (never with soap), I dry thoroughly and then add oil.

  8. I have a cast iron skillet (left over from an old boyfriend who liked to cook) that I have never used. I just keep taking it with me when I move. Oh well.
    Your dish looks good B! I especially like the use of the word “futzing”.

  9. zoobabe, the cast iron skillet can also be employed if the current boyfriend gets out of line.

  10. zoobabe, the cast iron skillet can also be employed if the current boyfriend gets out of line.
    Good thinking Jen of many #’s
    B – if you are worried about apples turning brown (even if you are making a recipe in which you want to turn them brown) use pineapple juice instead of lemon juice. Pineapple juice won’t give the apples that tart taste lemon juice will, plus it keeps the brown away even better!

  11. Am I the only one who thinks the whole idea of washing the cast iron skillet without soap is gross? It seems like an older skillet would have a lot of build-up. Yuck.

  12. I’ve been using a cast iron skillet almost daily, for years and I wash it with soap. Not every time, but probably every third time. I cannot stand the thought of not using soap on dirty dishes. Anyway, I’m not dead yet.

  13. B, your advancing cooking skills are impressive! Are you ready to whup Bobby Flay’s butt in a tatin throwdown? I think so! (BTW, I love it when that snotty BF loses those challenges.)

  14. Once again I question, are you available for marraige? To whom do I have to speak with, Mama or Papa, maybe Jash??

  15. B-side: Re: apple tatin. Looked great but you’re right — a cholesterol special.
    Maybe think green? Begin with green apples….then add, Lipitor…
    From, C-side mom

  16. One hint about pie crust is to wet down the counter and lay plastic wrap down and go from there.

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