Friday, June 3, 2011

Queen Of Tarts

Tart tatin is a french classic and once you've tasted it, it's easy to see why. Once you've tried making it you realize that it ticks all the boxes of complexity of flavour and texture while being astonishingly simple and fast to prepare. Tart tatin is also a feast for the eyes when served, looking like a work of patisserie art on the plate.

My husband David likes to perform his party trick of whipping one up from scratch in front of dinner guests in only a few moments, and I have to admit that is is a sight to behold, when presented to the table, to murmurings of delight.
As always, I am compelled to create my own variation on the classic. Right now I am experimenting with making individual tatins of various sizes and with various flavorings. This is my current favorite and the one I want to share with you .


3 pears, peeled, halved, cored.


Castor (superfine) sugar


Ground ginger


Mandarins zest

Puff pastry

Add the butter, sugar, spices and pears to a sauté pan on a medium high heat. Move or toss the ingredients every so often and cook until the sugar begins to caramelized and the pears begging to throw off their juice. Add the mandarin zest.

Remove from heat and allow to cool until per can be comfortably handled.

While pears are cooling, brush muffin tins with butter. Spoon some of the caramel from the pan into each muffin hole.
Take a pear half and slice length ways but not extending the cut through the narrow end. This results in the pears remaining joined on the narrow end, but cut through the fatter end.

Fan pear halves out slightly while placing them into the bottom of the muffin tin.

Cut out a circle of puff pastry slightly larger than the pan circle and place over the fruit, gently tucking the edges around the pears. I usually use the back of a teaspoon for this.

Bake in an oven at 200degrees c until the pastry has risen and is deep golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes then cover tray with a plastic chopping board and turn over. The tarts may benefit from running a thin knife around the edges to ensure no sticking occurs. Serve with cream or ice cream.

This recipe can also be adapted to make one large tart. You just need a frying or saute pan that can be placed in the oven without any risk to the handle. Saute quarters of the fruit with the butter/sugar/spices, then arrange neatly in the same pan. Cover with a round of pastry and proceed in the same way as the recipe above. When turning a large version out, I use a platter or plate that is larger than the pan. Instead of pears, you may also use apples, which are the original and classic fruit for this dish. But almost any fruit can be used. Just alter the saute time depending on the firmness of the fruit, ie; firmer fruit is cooked for longer than a softer fruit.

Puff Pastry

I will share with you a technique for making my own puff pastry, which I picked up from Gourmet Traveller Magazine last year. (You can see that article here). I have to confess that this was a revelation to me. To have a recipe for puff pastry that was so simple and fool proof really elevated my tarts and pies from good to magnificent. Ready rolled shop bought puff sheets are fine and I do use them if I'm making something quick and just for the family. And please, if you are short of time or inclination, then ready rolled is good and works without fail so don't be discouraged from using it. But if you want to take your dessert to the next level, this 'rough puff' is a relatively easy way there.
Firstly you will need to obtain one important piece of equipment: A pastry blade or scraper. You can find them in kitchenware shops and they are a rectangular piece of metal with a wooden piece across the top for a handle. I improvised this by using a flat plastic scraper which is from a hardware store, and I had been using this to assist in the mixing of bread dough in the past. It works so perfectly well that I haven't felt the need to replace it with the real version.

This is less a recipe and more a formula....

1 part plain flour
1 part cold, cubed butter
0.4 parts ice water
pinch of salt (smaller or larger depending on how much you are making. I have used salted or slightly salted butter and omitted the addition of extra salt and was happy with the result)

Place the butter on the pile of flour and chop with your pastry scraper. Chop chop chop until the mixture is a you can see smaller course crumbs and larger lumps as well.

Make a well in the centre and add some of the water, gently bringing together the mass with your scraper. Add more water if needed but only add a bit at a time as the requirement for water can change depending on factors such as humidity and moisture content of the flour. Don't kneed the dough as this will make it tough. Just bring together. flatten into a disc shape and then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
 Remove from fridge again, but this time roll into a long rectangle, in the opposite direction to the last rolling. Repeat the book folds and refrigerate for 20 min

Repeat the rolling out a third time, again taking the opposite direction to the last,wrap and refrigerate for the final resting before rolling out to use.

Doing this all in one session is fine if you happen to be in the kitchen or at home for the time it takes from start to finish. the mixing and rolling steps only take a few minutes each themselves, its the resting time that makes this a longer process. You can however take as long as you want in the time between rollings, the 20minutes is just the suggested minimum.
You could keep this in wrapped in the fridge for a day or two with no risk of spoiling; it is after all, only butter and flour. It freezes magnificently and I tend to make larger batches and divide them up into usable quantities of about 500gm which is equivalent to about 3 sheets of bought pastry.

For this recipe I prepared the dough using 250gm flour to 250gm butter and about 100mls ice water. I only used about a quarter of that to make 6 muffin tray sized tarts. I froze the rest in my ever faithful zip lock bags.


It is very much worth making a large amount and dividing it up into usable sized portions for freezing. The preparation may take a little bit of extra time and effort but it is not a difficult technique at all, the difference in the result, compared with the manufactured alternative, will pay huge rewards in the amazing quality and taste of your end product.

Give the tart tartin a try, (homemade puff or not). It's a tiny effort compared to the rewards of enjoying this delightful dessert with friends and family

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