The other day I went looking for a nicer than average dessert to make, and stopped when I found one that promised to put buttery caramel, apples, toasted walnuts and moist cake in your mouth all at the same time.
The recipe below got me smiling partly because of the occasion. My engineer brother spreads a special family dinner at Christmas. He and his wife never fail to impress. Since we arrive with a small army of locusts, I usually offer to add something to the menu. And around the fourth or fifth try he usually accepts. This year, he suggested I bring desserts.
While my wife and daughters got busy turning out special cookies and decorated cupcakes, I hit the laptop. And I eventually uncovered this recipe, for an apple upside down cake.
‘That’s tarte tatin, ‘ my brother said, ‘it’s French. You sure you don’t want to just pick up a pie or something?’
I wasn’t about to back down, or ask him what it meant, so I tried Google Translator. It came back with an empty box.
Now, my command of French is really thin. It wasn’t enough to keep me from riding shuttle buses for hours around Charles De Gaulle airport, looking for my departure terminal. Which by the way is how the French cunningly disorient tourists and other terrorists. But that’s another story.
The point is, you’ll have to settle for my best explanation here.
By my understanding a tart is someone… well along the way to prostitution. So it didn’t surprise me when a link I managed to turn up confirmed tarte tatin was a specialty of two French sisters who were awfully popular with hunters around the Loire Valley. In fact, the French call this dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin, which apparently works out to “the tarts are two unmarried women named Tatin.”
Which leaves to the imagination why the cake is upside down.
Anyway, this takes a bit of time and several steps, but it’s worth it. It’s a lot easier than making a pie. You can do the whole thing in a cast iron skillet (extra Dad’s points for that) but that requires tossing hot metal into the air and catching the contents on a platter, so I’ve gone with a cheat here. Bonny appetite.
a 10 inch cake pan, measuring equipment, a 12 inch heavy skillet, saucepan, mixer and two bowls, and between two and three hours.
- 7 or 8 medium apples (gravenstein or other good cooking apple)
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 2 tb lemon juice
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
For the cake:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 350 F .
- Butter the inside of the cake pan well or use cooking spray to prevent sticking.
- In the saucepan, melt 3 tbsp butter with the brown sugar. When it starts to bubble, pour it to cover the bottom of the cake pan.
- Peel the apples, slice into 8ths, core, and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
- Put 2 tbsp butter into the skillet, and when it’s melted, turn off the flame, add 1/4 cup rum and mix. Then put down a single layer of apple slices til the pan is filled, and cook over medium low heat til the undersides of the apples are just the color of your done-o-meter, a nice medium brown ale, like Newcastles: several minutes. Don’t guess, lift them and check. Take them off the heat immediately.
- When the slices are cool enough to handle with a fork, line them up edge to edge in circles in the cake pan, cooked side down. It’s ok if they overlap a little. If you don’t have enough slices to fully cover, repeat the step above. Sprinkle on the walnuts. Then set the pan aside.
- Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, cream the 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar together until its light and fluffy. You’ll see.
- Add the eggs and vanilla and beat til light again.
- Now, in batches, add some flour and milk, and mix just until they’re combined. Continue in batches til it’s all in. You don’t want to overmix the batter, as it knocks out all the fluffy air you worked to put in.
- Next, put heaping spoonfuls of this batter onto the apples, going around the pan from the center. Then carefully spread the batter out so that the topping is covered evenly to the edge of the pan.
- Bake for about 45 minutes and check it. When it’s done, a clean wood toothpick or skewer inserted in the center will come out clean. Or, the top of the cake will spring back when touched with a finger. Let it bake if it’s not done, but check every 5 minutes.
- Take the cake out and let it cool on a rack 10 minutes, not longer.
- Put a platter that’s wider than the cake pan over the top of the cake pan, and holding the two together, flip them over, so the platter’s on the bottom. It feels like a tricky maneuver, but you can do it safely by holding the platter and pan together like a sandwich with your thumbs on top, and then rotating in one smooth turn towards yourself so your thumbs end up underneath.
- You can give it a good shake to free the cake from the pan onto the platter. If any apple slices are stuck to the pan, just take them off with a fork and replace onto the cake.
Just be careful, the sugar topping is blazing hot and sticks to skin.
There are plenty of variations of this recipe, including some which claim to be authentic, but I’ve tested the one above personally, so if you go with the others, just be careful. In my opinion, new recipes are like blind dates.