Notes from Virginia: An Appletastic Classic

Virginia is for lovers they say, and my stay down here has confirmed it. The weather here has been brilliantly crisp, the sun drenching the valley and bringing to life the bluish-purple of the mountains and the orangey red hues of the trees. As warm as the sun gets low though, the constant cold wind has served as a stern reminder that it’s fall. And once those last rays of sunshine vanish off the porch, there is nothing quite like cozying up with a cup of hot apple cider by the fire side .

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In fact, nothing spells autumn in this part of the world like apples do, and in the valley we have ample choices of where to get the fresh pickings of any kind of apple imaginable. So naturally, I was going to spend at least one afternoon making something warm, with apples, and sugar.

I suppose I don’t need to go on about how many ways Americans have figured out to use apples (apple pie, apple crisp, apple cider, apple sauce, caramel apples, apple cake…). As impressive as the repertoir is, in my book, nothing comes close to the mother of all apple desserts: the tarte tatin, brought to you, of course, by the french. My grandfather, renowned for his cakes and desserts, has a recipe that I intend to perfect one day, so on one chilly evening I rolled up my sleeves and took another stab at this recipe. Warning: this is pure indulgence, so make, bake, and eat your heart out.

Ingredients and tools:

– 6-8 green apples, peeled and quartered.

– about 100 grams of butter

– about 150 grams of sugar (powdered is recommended but I used regular granulated sugar)

– pate brisée or feuilletée

– cast iron skillet (using a skillet the size of the pie you want to end up with)

Now, I’ve made numerous attempts at this recipe in the past, and although the flavor always came out about right, I couldn’t seem to fix the slight problem that there seemed to be an excess of liquid. This time though I nailed it:

1) preheat the oven to 200C.

2) Take the cast iron skillet on the stove top on low-medium heat and melt the butter. Pour the sugar into the melted butter, and let it melt, stirring occasionally, until it gets to be an even gold/caramel color.

3) Remove from heat, and place the apples in the skillet. I find it easier to place two quarters face to face in the center, making a circle, and then building circles around that. If there are gaps, you can fill them up with smaller pieces of apple.

4) When the pan is filled with apples, put it back on the burner on medium-high heat. You can cover them with tin foil to accelerate the cooking, leaving them on the burner for about 5-10 minutes.

5) Take your pie dough (I usually buy it ready made at the Migros) and lay it over the apples, tucking the dough in around the edges of the apples. Definitely does not need to be perfect.

6) KEY: make sure you cut in enough slots to let all the moisture out. Apples carry a lot of water, and since the pie is cooked upside down, this is a particularly important step to success.

7) Put it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the caramel bubbles up around the edges and when the crust is crisp and golden.

8) Remove from the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes. Then, place a large plate over the pie in the skillet and flip it so that the pastry side is now down.

As with anything french and culinary, there is a long standing debate around how to serve a tarte tatin. Traditionalists say it should be served as is, but you’ll often see it served with creme anglaise or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Personally? I’m a purist as long as the tarte tatin is made well: plump warm apples on a light crispy pastry dough, wrapped in the sweet, smooth caramel glaze… I’m thinking it’s time for round two.

 

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