Bravado cooking is about many things – making things from scratch, taking whatever time is required because your guests really are important, finding ways to drink good wine while you cook and – the subject of this post – showing respect for the classics. If we can’t remember, understand the history and prepare the classic dishes, we are nowhere. One of the classic desserts of all time is the Tarte de Demoiselles Tatin and it starts with a paté brisée, which is the same thing as our One-Handed Pie Crust, which you might want to review now – without repeating some of Howard’s antics (see Use Extreme Caution).
History of the Tarte Tatin:
The Tatin sisters, Stéhanie and Caroline (aka Fanny), inherited the family hotel in 1880. It was located in the village of Lamotte Beuvron, which is in the countryside about two hours south of Paris. In American terms, it would be like a place in the Hamptons serving New York, in Lake Geneva serving Chicago or in Napa serving San Francisco. In UK terms, it would be like a country pub in the Windsor area near London.
In those days, the affluent would go to the countryside by train and stay the weekend at a place like the Hotel Tatin. The men would hunt – renting land for the weekend from local farmers and landowners. The women and children might stroll the environs of the hotel or chat with other guests. Word got around quickly if the food and atmosphere of a hotel or country inn were good.
Stéphanie Tatin was 43 years old when they took over the hotel. Caroline was 29 – neither were ever married. Stéphanie handled the public and was well known to all of the guests. She would apparently talk endlessly with the clientele, especially about their personal problems. Sister Caroline, who was apparently bad-tempered, managed the kitchen and was responsible for the wonderful apple tarte that bears her family name.
Here is a great quote from the Bulletin de la Société Géographique du Cher in 1903. It narrates a two-day rail excursion around the region by its members that makes you wish you were there:
“From La Ferté [a small town 10 miles North of Lamotte-Beuvron], the face of the forest changes. Oak trees reappear, and mix pleasantly with pines, birches, and aspens. Chaumont-sur-Tharonne is a pretty village with a big church and a beautiful steeple. On that day, townsfolk are celebrating, and throngs of merrymakers invade the train station. The valley until Lamotte-Beuvron is fairly rugged. We travel across the park of a former imperial estate, which has become an agricultural vocational school for troubled youth. And we finally get off in La Motte [note the old spelling].
It is almost 8 p.m., and our stomachs are growling. Fortunately, right across from the train station stands the Hotel Tatin, built and outfitted with all the modern comforts for the enjoyment of Parisians who lease all the hunting estates around. The staff has been awaiting us, and the dinner menu, once read, brings forth a swell of excitement: it is extraordinarily bountiful and almost worth sharing here for the illumination of future generations; the dinner is unquestionably superb, and topped off, at our insistence, by a warm apple tarte that is the specialty of the house, and might rightfully qualify for a patent…along with official endorsement, for as long as Miss Fanny Tatin minds the stoves. This incomparable treat, famous all over Sologne, is an invaluable asset to the economic geography of the region. Since it is late in the winter, it is also the last tarte Tatin of the season for the hotel, which makes it taste like a slice of history! Such a luxuriant meal could only end with a glass of champagne. The excursion budget allowed for it, and this gave us the opportunity for some toasts, where we indulged, as is customary, in mutual accolades. If Sologne still had critics, the journey from Blois to La Motte on a gorgeous spring day, and a dinner at the Hotel Tatin would certainly silence them, and should restore their regard for this land once scorned, yet so appreciated today.
Caroline died in 1911 at age 60 and Stéphanie disappeared during the the Great War – she was 80. These maiden innkeepers probably never considered themselves very important and would probably be surprised that the world still remembers them today.
The Tarte Tatin has the crust on the bottom and there are endless stories that it was created by accident – somebody flipped it over without realizing and then some uninformed server presented it to the guests. The reality is that it is an ancient French country technique in the Sologne province where the village was located.
The recipe became most famous when Maxim’s restaurant included it on their menu in 1925. It features prominently in Julia Childs books – she has a couple of variations. If you Google Tarte Tatin, you will get over 2.0 million hits. Truly, it is a classic and every Bravado chef needs to be able to prepare this dish.
One Hour to Nirvana
We prefer the very simple version of the recipe – the first one that Julia offered. We think this is the one that grumpy Caroline would have used. This is a relatively easy dish (5.5 on the Bravado 10 point scale), and fun to make with your guests. It takes under one hour to get the taste in the oven. Here’s how you do it.
1 One-handed piecrust (paté brisée)
4 lbs. of Granny Smith, Golden Delicious or “baking apples” (UK)
1 stick of butter
1 cup of sugar
1 bottle of good Champagne
- Show your guests the bottle of Champagne that you are going to have with the tarte. Put the bottle in the freezer – it needs to be beastly cold.
- Get your ingredients out for the one-handed pie crust (one cup of flour, one stick of butter, one tbsp. of sugar, ½ tsp. of salt) and show them the one-handed technique. From start to finish, this will take you 15 minutes. Put the dough in the freezer.
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Have one of your guests peel, core and cut the apples into quarters.
- Slice the apple quarters longitudinally in slices about ¼ inch thick.
- Grease the bottom and the sides of a 9” pie pan with the stick of butter and spread ¼ cup of sugar on the bottom and the sides.
- Melt the remainder of the butter.
- Arrange the apple slices in the pan in an overlapping circular pattern, starting from the outside of the dish.
- After the second layer, pour half of the melted butter on the apples and sprinkle with a generous ¼ cup of sugar.
- Finish arranging the remaining apple slices and add the remaining butter and sugar.
- Roll out the piecrust so it has about a one-inch overlap (about 11 or 12 inches in diameter).
Rolling dough: If you followed the recipe for the one-handed pie crust, the dough is in the refrigerator and is now hard. Take it out, put it on the counter and smack it a couple of times with the rolling pin. This is a great move in front of guests. Then take the dough and form it into a disc with your hands. Don’t spend too much time on this since the butter in the dough will start to melt quickly. Put the disc on a floured surface and roll it out, starting from the center and rolling towards the edges. Fix any breaks or tears, flip it once before it gets too thin and throw down a little more flour so it doesn’t stick. When it gets about 1/8” thick, you are done. Gently take the edges with both hands and lift it onto the tarte.
12. Cover the pie pan and apples with the crust and seal the edges inside the pan. Fold any excess back so that the edge becomes thick. Cut five small vent holes in the top.
13. Bake for one hour in the middle of the oven with a cookie sheet on the rack below. The apples will give off liquid, which will ooze out and drip. Without the cookie sheet to catch the liquid, you will, I guarantee, have a problem.
14. As soon as you take the pie out of the oven, cover the top with a serving plate that is slightly bigger in diameter than the pie pan. With your mitts on, clamp the top and bottom together and quickly invert. Slowly lift the pie pan off and listen to the roar of the crowd as you sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top. You are Bravado!
15. Pour the Champagne and enjoy.
Pie Pans: Some use a copper or iron skillet to make a Tarte Tatin, but a glass or ceramic pie pan, dish or plate (nobody has agreed on the correct word) works equally as well and is easier to handle. If you don’t have a good pie pan, here are the best choices: