Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tarte Tatin at the Hepps!


Our friends and neighbors in Southampton, Regula and Ted Hepp, invited us over for dinner in their beautiful Upper West Side brownstone last night. Both European, they are wonderful hosts and provided an evening full of wonderful (and plentiful) wine, fun (and serious) conversation and a tasty comfort foods -- osso bucco served with a greens and sauteed pear salad and Tarte Tatin. Regula had picked the apples and pears herself in upstate NY over the weekend. Of course, me being a savory foodie and not a sweets eater (and New York City/Long Island locavore) I didn't know what a Tarte Tatin was. Henry's been to France a gazillion times, so he knew right away when Regula brought it to the table and was very excited to savor every bite. Regula served her "local" Tarte Tatin classic style -- puff pastry, sliced apples cooked in sugar and butter and piping hot with a generous, fluffy dollop of freshly whipped cream. 

ABOUT THE FOOD
RECIPE
I had to look-up Tarte Tatin (tart tah-TAN) when I got home and discoved that it's a famous French upside-down apple tart that's essentially sauteed apples with butter and sugar cooked cooked on top of the stove til brown for about 20-30 minutes in an oven proof "Tarte Tatin" round pan, then when it's carmelized the apples are covered with a cut-out round of puff pastry just big enough to cover and slightly overlap the pan (Pepperidge Farm Frozen Pastry is easy to use according to Regula), then popped into the oven for about a half hour at 350 degrees. When it's cooked, you turn over the cooked pastry onto a plate and voilĂ , like magic, you have a crispy puffed pastry on the bottom and glistening carmelized apples on the top. Serve immediately with whipped cream, creme anglaise, ice cream or creme fraiche.

According to the history, two French sisters, Carolina and Stephine Tatin, served the tart in the late 1890's at a little inn they ran called l'Hotel in the Loire Valley (not too far from Paris) which in the fall and winter hunters stayed at their inn. Stephanie, who was the cook, apparently while in a hurry, accidently overcooked some apples when making a traditional pie. In order to salvage the dessert she put the crust on the top of the cooked apples instead of putting the apples in the uncooked crust as you would for  a traditional pie so that the crust would cook more quickly and the apples would be fine.

Or so the story goes. 

According to William Grimes of the New York Times, the dessert became popular when famed Maxim's Restaurant put it on their menu (after likely sending spies and other recipe thieves out to l'Hotel Tatin to figure out this delicious yet amazingly simple (read -- perfect for me) recipe).

Here's the article which has two recipes on the last page: EN ROUTE: SOLOGNE; The Tart That Turned France Upside Down.

KITCHEN TOOL

Copper Tarte Tatin Pan
According to the great French chefs, the ideal pan for a tarte Tatin is a small round copper pan which conducts the heat evenly and allows the sugar to carmelize and produce a beautiful amber color that matches to golden crisp puff pastry crust. From stove top to oven to table -- the copper pan is lovely. (Funny, I have two of these pans that I got as wedding gifts from Lee Amato and Andy Torre and never knew they were Tarte Tatin pans -- I've used them to serve hot crab dip and other savory dishes. Ah, visions of sugared apples dancing in my head -- served in my beautiful heavy weight copper Tarte Tatin pans!


Simple, Local, Tarte Tatin --- Bon Appetit!

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