Tuesday, January 19, 2016

La Véritable Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin, the upside-down apple tart of myth! The story is that two sisters, les demoiselles Tatin, ran a restaurant in a town near Orléans. Allegedly, the one who did the cooking put some apples in the oven to prepare them for a tart and forgot about them; upon noticing, she added some pastry on top and when it was cooked, turned it over and discovered a beautiful upside-down tart. Admittedly hard to believe.

If you know France, you will not be surprised to hear that there exists a society of Tarte Tatin lovers, La Confrérie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin (literally, lovers (actually, lickers) of Tarte Tatin), whose purpose is to defend La Véritable Tarte Tatin. For more on the myth and the Confrérie, told by a member, see the text below.

Notwithstanding the improbable myth, Tarte Tatin is actually a wonderful dessert: great caramelized apple flavor, nicely cooked pastry and impressive to look at. I have made many versions over the years, but recently made the "official" version published by the Confrérie, which I recommend. It's not that hard, actually.

You start with a 10-inch pan. If you're me you have a beautiful copper Tarte Tatin pan, but any heavy pan will do. I recommend cast iron but a good quality aluminum pan like one from All-Clad will do.

Stainless steel-lined copper Tarte Tatin pan
Then you smear softened butter over the inside of the pan, including the sides, as evenly as possible, and cover with a layer of sugar as uniform as possible. Put as many peeled apple quarters in the pan as you can fit, upside down or tending in that direction.

Cook over high heat until the sugar turns to caramel.

Tarte Tatin sugar caramelizing
Keep going until the caramel is "golden brown." Don't chicken out: let it get pretty dark.

Tarte Tatin - caramel is "golden brown"
Then cover with a round of puff pastry (Dufour is the best brand, by far) or homemade pâte brisée,
bake for 30 minutes until GBD (golden, brown and delicious), let it sit off heat for five minutes,

Tarte Tatin - removed from the oven
and, finally, invert the pan over a plate. The tart will slide right out although I admit to getting nervous every time over whether it will come out intact without sticking.

Voilà! The perfect Tarte Tatin.

Tarte Tatin - ready to be devoured
Well, almost perfect. I think I could have given the caramel another 60-90 seconds to get just a bit darker. But still, I was content with the taste and appearance of the final result.

Here's the full recipe:

(Adapted from the Confrérie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin, via New York Times)



·       8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

·       1 cup sugar

·       6 medium Gala or other apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters

·       1 thin (1/8-inch) sheet puff pastry, cut into a circle 12 inches in diameter (I often use regular pâte brisée).

1.     Spread butter evenly in a 10-inch tarte Tatin mold or heavy 10-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet. Spread sugar as evenly as possible on sides and bottom of pan. Beginning at edge of pan, arrange apples peeled side down in concentric circles, fitting apples closely together.

2.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pan over high heat, and cook without stirring until sugar caramelizes and turns dark golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, and press gently on the apples with a wooden spoon to help fill any spaces between them. Cover the apples with puff pastry, overlapping the rim of the pan. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

3.     Remove tart from oven, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cover pan with a large plate, and quickly invert tart; remove pan. Serve hot or warm.

Tarte Tatin is fun to make and will dazzle your guests. I have used this recipe numerous times and it is really not difficult, so give it a try.

Bobby Jay

Here's the story from a member of the Confrérie:
"LA CONFRERIE DES LICHONNEUX (*ceux qui aiment, qui lichent) DE TARTE TATIN s'est constituée en 1979. Quelques LAMOTTOIS désireux de défendre la véritable TARTE TATIN, inventée par accident à LAMOTTE-BEUVRON, se sont constitués en confrérie gourmande.
Les soeurs TATIN tenaient l'Hotel du même nom (qui existe toujours).
Stéphanie (1838-1917) s'occupait du service et de la salle. Caroline (1847-1911) était la cuisinière. Un jour de grande affluence (pendant la période de chasse), et alors qu'elle enfourne sa tarte aux pommes elle s'aperçoit qu'elle a oublié la pâte, elle décide de recouvrir les pommes avec celle-ci. La tarte une fois cuite fut servie retournée et chaude. C'est un franc succès qui va perdurer.
Le record de la plus grande TARTE TATIN : 2,50 m fabriquée par Claude BISSON.
Revenons à notre CONFRERIE :
Son but est la défense, avec sympathie et convivialité, de la véritable TARTE TATIN, celle de LAMOTTE-BEUVRON.
Le 35° chapitre s'est déroulé le 18 mai 2013 avec défilé, intronisation, concours et dégustation.
La tenue des membres est composée d'une Biaude (blouse) bleue,d'un foulard rouge,d'un chapeau noir et de sabots.
Pour [l'auteur] il est important de maintenir ces animations et traditions liées au terroir"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Week of Cooking Dangerously -- Part 3 -- Middle Eastern Dinner

My week of furious cooking ended Saturday night, when we had four of our best friends to a primarily Middle Eastern dinner. These are people whom I don't mind experimenting for (on?).

Hors d'oeuvres were my usual -- cheese gougères, smoked sturgeon and smoked ricotta on pumpernickel -- supplemented by a very creamy simple hummus made from a reciped in Ottolenghi's Jerusalem.

Hummus with olive oil and sumac powder
The starter was a Lebanese tabbouleh salad, as prescribed by Claudia Roden in her New Book of Middle Eastern Food, a definitive classic.

Tabbouleh salad
For the main course, we had Berber couscous with seven vegetables, also from Ms. Roden's book, made with lamb shanks and chicken thighs.

Berber couscous with seven vegetables, lamb and chicken
I made some sloppy but not bad baklava for dessert, but by an amazing coincidence, a friend had sent an assortment of pastries from Lebanon earlier in the day, which served as a fitting post-dessert to a pretty fun meal, if I say so myself.

My baklava
Real Lebanese pastries
Bobby Jay

The Week of Cooking Dangerously -- Part 2 -- Thanksgiving in January

I have often said that I should make a Thanksgiving dinner at some other point in the year to try things that I wouldn't dare to try at the real Thanksgiving for fear of a failure at the all-important feast.

So when Joan invited a group of friends and family to dinner on Thursday, I determined that this was the moment. And, in contrast to the meal I prepared a few days before, everything went right, and I actually discovered a new turkey presentation that I will use next November: roast turkey breast, porchetta style. This roasted breast, which was seasoned and rolled a day ahead, proved to be incredibly juicy with the exact taste of Italian porchetta, as a result of the massive amount of sage and rosemary rub inserted in the center and under the skin.

Roasted turkey breast, porchetta-style
Before the meal, hors d'oeuvres consisted of the same sturgeon I had served on Sunday, my proprietary ricotta and sun-dried tomato spread and cheese gougères.

Ricotta and sun-dried tomato spread
The meal began with ginger beet soup with tarragon, a vibrantly gorgeous and foolproof recipe from Gordon Hamersley's Bistro Cooking at Home.

Ginger beet soup with tarragon
The turkey, described above, was accompanied by a sage and chicken sausage stuffing and classic gravy, both from Kenji Lopez-Alt's wonderful new book, The Food Lab (see my post of October 10, 2015 for more on this book). The secret to the gravy was a deep dark brown turkey stock that I had made earlier in the week by roasting the hell out of turkey necks, onions, carrot and celery before making  them into stock.

Sage and chicken sausage stuffing
Roasting turkey necks and aromatic vegetables for stock
I will repeat both the stock and the gravy at Thanksgiving.

Finally, a Tarte Tatin, made according to the recipe of the Confrérie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin, which came out perfectly. I will be doing a separate post on this tart, so enough said for now.

My advice, therefore, is to invite some friends to non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving and experiment.

Bobby Jay

The Week of Cooking Dangerously -- Part 1 -- Office Party

After a year-end burst of blogging, I have been too lazy to post for the first couple of weeks of the year. But I have just completed a week of furious cooking, with some  highs and lows worth discussing.

Apple Tart Mémé
Last Sunday night I prepared dinner for the wonderful team at Joan's gallery, an annual event. The centerpiece was to be slow-cooked lamb shoulder over pommes boulangères. For some reason, everything went wrong, starting with the fact that the lamb shoulder I had ordered turned out to be a different cut altogether. I called Citarella to do an exchange, but the correct meat arrived too late for true falling-off-the-bone texture that this the essence of the recipe. It tasted okay but after 5 1/2 hours had not reached the desired stage and had to be served.

I then put way too little flour in the dough for my apple tart, but managed to salvage it by careful surgery once it was in the tart shell.

Hors d'oeuvres consisted of smoked sturgeon and smoked ricotta sprinkled with dill over German style super-multi-grain bread that I bought from She-Wolf Bakery. Even on a bad day, I couldn't screw this up.

Smoked sturgeon and smoked ricotta crostini
I did, however, screw up the shrimp that I steamed in Old Bay Seasoning and served with sriratcha mayonnaise: overcooked! And I also managed to drop a beautiful Baccarat flute filled with champagne soon after the guests arrived.

The appetizer was my beet and turnip salad with Alain Passard's unbelievably complex and delicious honey lime vinaigrette aigre-doux. The beets took twice as long as expected, did not peel easily and generally were a nightmare, but the final result was fine.

Beet and turnip salad with mesclun and vinaigrette aigre-doux
The aforesaid lamb was not bad but I was so mad at it that I didn't make a photo.

There followed a cheese course consisting of spectacularly pungent vieux cantal from 2012 that I brought back from France on New Year's Day, served with walnuts and Spanish fig cake to cut the divine rotten taste and aroma of the cheese.

Super old Cantal with walnuts and fig cake
Finally, Jacques Pépin's Apple Tart Mémé, pictured above, was fine even if the crust was really really thin.

Most important, the company was great and the event a success despite my messes.

So I managed to overcome my demons for the most part, but not as well as Shoki, the Japanese mythological demon-queller, would have done). A challenging day that ended well.

Bobby Jay

Monday, January 4, 2016

Paris -- Cooking with Dorie Greenspan

With Dorie Greenspan in her kitchen
I had a thrill recently while in Paris: cooking a meal with Dorie Greenspan.

Readers of this blog will know of my admiration for Dorie and her cookbooks, specifically her Around My French Table and Baking Chez Moi.

For nearly a year, Dorie and I have been email pen pals, thanks to an introduction from her son via a neighbor. And even though her New York apartment is not far from mine, we somehow have never seen each other there. Finally, though, it turned out that we would both be at our Paris apartments over the holiday, and we decided to prepare a meal to eat en famille with Joan and Dorie's husband and her son and his girlfriend. We had a lovely meal and Joan and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the whole family.

It is not surprising that Dorie and I do not operate in the same way. I cook from recipes; she does not, although she spends much of her life creating them, but rather relies on her culinary experience and instincts. And can she improvise! We shopped early on the day of our dinner at teh wonderful Richard Lenoir market near the Bastille, and while at the volaillerie, she spied some gorgeous chicken livers, from which she concocted a truly spectacular chopped liver. Not your mom's, this one had no egg, no chicken fat, no bread crumbs, just chicken livers coarsely chopped with a heavenly blend of spices made up on the spur of the moment, including a bit of hot, garlicky sriracha and, I think, a pinch of Chinese five-spice powder. I am trying to get this recipe but may have to wait until it is published (as it should be!).

The other hors d'oeuvre was a delicious rendition of "gerard's mustard tart," from Around My French Table.

"gerard's mustard tart"
Then came a delicious pumpkin risotto, which we prepared from Michael Romano's recipe in The Union Square Cookbook using great French potiron . . .

Pumpkin risotto
. . . followed by herb-crusted salt baked salmon from Food52 Genius Recipes, atop a potato and celery root purée that Dorie happened to have around.

Herb-crusted salt baked salmon over potato celery root purée
Finally (well, after a wonderful cheese course), Dorie's rich marquise au chocolat, as detailed in Baking Chez Moi, just unfrozen enough to cut and sprinkled with crushed speculoos cookies.

Dorie unfreezing the marquise with the old hair-dryer technique
Marquise au chocolat with speculoos crumbs
In addition to the obvious pleasure of the cooking, highlights of the day were getting to know Dorie and her family, and hearing anecdotes about the cooking greats (past and present) whom she knows well and has cooked with and for. (In addition to household name restaurant chefs, she is a friend of my idol, Jacques Pépin.) It's a joy to hear first-hand stories and cooking lore from this petite dynamo, who has spent a varied and successful life in food.

Bobby Jay