I don’t mind questions. There’s no shortage of questions in my life, but I’m now starting to look for answers.
One of the reasons I started my blog in 1999 was to answer people’s questions about recipes. So if people had a question, they were welcome to ask me in the comments on my blog. Now there’s an email contact form on my blog, I answer questions in the comments on Instagram and Facebook, and now I answer them here on Substack for paid subscribers.
Those five ways are fine for me, but unfortunately I can’t help with people’s vacations on my tiny phone screen via DM, where people ask for recommended restaurants and pastry shops in Paris (which I figured I’d put on my blog, with all their addresses, for your convenience), asking about which hotels I like in Paris (I have an apartment so don’t stay in hotels, but if some of those luxury hotels would put me up for a night or two, I am happy to offer my expert opinion😉), as well as what neighborhoods in Paris are safe, will someone get Covid if they visit Paris, and can I have dinner with them on their anniversary.
(Note: I’m a terrible dinner guest. I’m socially awkward, I have no filter and will say anything, I get upset if my wine glass isn’t promptly refilled, and by 10pm, I’m ready for bed. And really, who wants to spend their anniversary with a grumpy stranger who will say anything?)
But lest you think I’m not a nice person, I’m happy to answer various queries at those places, but I’m woefully behind on a host of deadlines and decisions, so let’s get to this recipe…shall we?
Okay, before I do, I’d like to mention that every once in a while I do Q+As on Instagram where people can ask me anything. When someone asked me what a pet peeve of mine was in the most recent Q+A, I answered:
I was at a culinary conference a number of years ago talking with my friend, baking legend Flo Braker, one of the most meticulous bakers (and wonderful people) I’ve ever met. Dear Julia obviously felt the same way about her as I do…
At the conference, a woman came over to talk to us and mentioned that she was writing her first cookbook and some of the recipes, she noted with surprise - and a bit of exasperation - that she “…had to test up to three times!!”
When she walked away, Flo looked over and said to me in her raspy voice, “Oh my gosh…you’re lucky if you get the recipe right by the third try!”
Years ago when I taught cooking classes at cookware stores around the United States, afterward the stores would give attendees questionnaires asking them what kind of classes they’d like to see in the future. Many wrote in that they wanted low-fat baking classes, but the shop owners told me that wasn’t happening: Whenever they scheduled them, no one would sign up.
I want to keep the joy in cooking and baking for you, and I really do test recipes and try them out with various amounts of sugar, butter, cream before passing them on to you. And I don’t like an overload of any of those either. So if I thought a recipe would be better with less sugar or fat, I’d have used less.
I wrote articles for a magazine back in the day, whose recipes were focused on reducing the fat in recipes. I don’t mind fat but I also don’t mind cutting back on it when it’s not necessary. (I once made a non-fat cassoulet for a friend’s husband who had heart surgery and couldn’t eat any fat. And it was good!) You need to strategize a bit when toggling the fat down in baking and in desserts. I’d do things like swap out white chocolate for cream in a custard since the cocoa butter in the white chocolate offered up more flavor than cream. And make fruit soufflés with concentrated fruit purée rather than egg yolk-rich pastry cream.
In this tart, I dialed down the butter in the dough, which gets smothered in apples that get baked and caramelized in dark brown sugar, so you don’t really need to go overboard with butter in the crust.
Don’t get me wrong. I love butter, but I don’t think you need to overload desserts with it. But I do think apple desserts need to have plenty of apples, and this tarte Tatin isn’t lacking in them. No question about that.
Lowfat Tarte Tatin
Traditionalists (and fans of low-fat foods) will be happy to know that it’s traditional not to serve anything alongside tarte Tatin; no cream, no ice cream, no crème fraîche. Just on its own. The French do not necessarily feel like they need to keep adding things to homemade desserts and often like things simple and just as they are. Try it!
Golden Delicious apples are reliably firm and flavorful, and here I used Honeycrisp apples which worked well, but ask the apple folks at your local greenmarket which apples they recommend for baking. You want ones that won’t fall apart.
Depending on the apple you use, they may throw off some liquid after you turn the tart out onto the platter or baking sheet, so be sure to use a large platter or to be extra careful, a baking sheet with a rim, being careful about avoiding hot juices running out.
For the dough
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces, 45g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch (2cm) cubes and chilled
1/4 cup (60ml) ice water, plus a bit more if necessary
For the apples
8 firm, tart apples, such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith, quartered, peeled and cored
1 1/2 tablespoons (22g) unsalted or salted butter
1/2 cup/100g (packed) dark brown sugar
1. Make the dough by mixing together the flour, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the butter and mix the butter with your fingers until it’s in pea-sized chunks. (You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.) Add the water and mix just until the dough holds together. If it feels dry, add water a teaspoon at a time, until it’s malleable. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap or your favorite eco-friendly alternative. (Dough can be made up to 2 days and refrigerated.)
2. To make the tarte Tatin, melt the butter in a 10-inch (23cm) cast-iron or non-stick skillet with a heatproof handle, one that can go in the oven. Stir in the brown sugar until it’s completely moistened and remove from heat.
3. Arrange the apple quarters, placing them rounded side down in the pan. Tightly pack the apples in overlapping concentric circles. And I mean, really cram them in. It may seem like a lot, and they might look kinda chaotic, but they'll cook down and later you’ll be happy you have all those apples in there.
4. Set the pan on the stove over medium heat and cook for 20-25 minutes. Do not stir or move the apples while cooking but rotate the pan a quarter turn a few times during the cooking so things cook evenly. While cooking, as the apples soften, press them gently down with a spatula to pack them in.
5. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC) degrees. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 13-inch (33cm) circle. Drape the dough over the apples and tuck the overhang between the apples and the inside of the pan as best you can, which will make a rimmed crust. Bake the tart for 30 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and invert a large serving platter (preferably with a rim) or a baking sheet over the tart. Hold the skillet in place wearing an oven mitt and flip both the skillet and the platter simultaneously, being careful of any pan juices. I sometimes do this over a sink, and tilt everything away from you in case juices come out. Lift off the skillet (carefully! the handle of the pan is still very hot and more of the lovely warm juices may spill out…) Rearrange any apples that may have gone rogue, and reunite them with the others on the tart. And if there’s any juices pooling around the tart, spoon them over the apples.
Serving: Serve this tart warm if at all possible.