Tenacious Tart Tatin (French Caramelized Apple Tart)
Makes one 9 1/2 inch tart
Tester Note: If anyone wants to try making the shortbread gluten free using a purchased GF flour mix OR a blend of 1/2 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup oat flour and 1/3 cup almond meal please do and report your results.
Tart tatin is the ultimate French country dessert, a sophisticated, not-to-sweet treat of meltingly tender apple slices braised in dark rich caramel atop a rich pastry crust. Making tart tatin can be a challenge for beginners, involving both the flipping of a heavy, hot pan and rolling out a crust, but my veganized take uses friendlier tactics for fearless tart forging. The crust is a tender shortbread infused with olive oil (olive oil is lovely paired with apples) pressed into the baking pan, and the apples are fully caramelized on the stovetop then arranged on top of the baked crust. The result is still faithful to the original, but requiring less dexterity on the chef’s part.
It’s essential to use the freshest, firmest tart cooking apples for tart tatin; the intense cooking in the caramel will turn overly tender or old apples into applesauce. That’s also why the apples are cut into thick quarters; they will shrink down and be rendered tender while cooking in the bubbling caramel. Tart tatin is a departure from American apple pie: rustic, glossy and no spices present, it allows the flavors of bittersweet caramel and apple to shine through.
Tip: Make sure to use the biggest, widest skillet you own for caramelizing the apples. The rapidly boiling caramel over high heat will look intense but will go along smoothly if your skillet (stainless steel is best) is at least 2 inches deep. It’s important to get the caramel to a deep color to give tatin it’s not-to-sweet character, but never walk away from boiling caramel to prevent it from very quickly getting too dark and near burning.
Make ahead tip: Store the frozen, unbaked crust for up to a week in the freezer and bake when ready to prepare the tart. If you want to bake the crust in advance, store it (still in the pan) in a loosely covered container up to one day. Tart tatin is best consumed within a day of preparing and keep it chilled when not serving. Always warm chilled tart tatin before serving.
Note: To freeze the olive oil, pour into a small plastic container and freeze for 30-40 minutes until semi-solid, similar to the consistency of a soft sorbet. If the oil freezes too solid, remove from the freezer and let stand at room temperature until the proper consistency is reached.
Olive Oil Shortbread
- 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil, partially frozen (see note)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons almond milk
Caramel Apple Topping
- 6 large, tart cooking apples (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds) like Granny Smith, Braeburn, or Fuji
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons vegan margarine
- 2 tablespoons brandy, apple brandy (Calvados) or rum
1. Make the shortbread first: lightly oil a 9 to 9 1/2 inch springform pan. Sift the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Add the semi-frozen olive oil to the flour mixture in spoonfuls. Use half at first and cut it into the flour using a fork or a pastry cutter. Add the remaining oil and keep cutting it in until mixture appears moist and crumbly. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons of almond milk and mix until the dough holds together when squeezed between your fingers. Add additional tablespoons of milk, one at a time, if the dough appears too dry.
Firmly press the dough into the bottom of the springform pan, shaping a slightly raised edge where the dough touches the walls of the pan. Using a fork, poke holes all over the dough and freeze for 30 minutes or until frozen solid. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place tart on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until firm. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
2. While the tart is baking, core and peel the apples, then slice each one into quarters. In a deep 12 inch stainless steel skillet over medium heat melt the margarine, then sprinkle the sugar in an even layer and stir a few times. Arrange the apple quarters on top of the sugar mixture in a single layer, cut side facing down, squeezing in all of the apples (they will fit as the apples begin to shrink during cooking). Turn the stove burner to high. Cook the apples, occasionally rotating the pan on the stovetop to evenly distribute the heat, for 10-12 minutes until the most of the bubbling apple juices turn a deep amber color. You don’t have to stir the apples, just keep an eye on the caramel and rotate the pan to get the most evenly darkened caramel as possible. Turn off the heat and using tongs, turn each apple piece over to coat with caramel; some dark, almost burned spots on the apples are desirable. If the apple slices are very soft use a large metal spoon to turn over the slices. Return the heat to high and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes until the caramel is rapidly bubbling and slightly darker in color. Be careful not to let the caramel burn.
3. Turn off the heat and using tongs (or the large metal spoon if the apples are too soft), pick up one apple slice at a time and arrange in a spiral patter on top of the shortbread. Start from the outside and work towards the center, overlapping the apples and use any remaining slices to fill any gaps in the center of the tart. With the remaining juices in the pan, turn the heat to medium, stir in the brandy and bring mixture to a bubbling simmer. Turn off heat, stir the sauce a few times and spoon this remaining caramel over the tart. Let the tart cool for 15 minutes before serving, then remove metal ring from the springform pan. Use a thin, sharp knife to slice and serve with vegan whipped cream topping or vanilla ice cream. Keep tart chilled when not serving. Gently reheating cold slices will enhance the flavor.
Variation: Sprinkle a few grains of high quality sea salt over the tart as it cools. Go easy on the salt though and use less than 1/8 teaspoon at best.