There are dishes I'm always playing with, and then there are a few about which I am a total, heels-dug-in reactionary. Tarte Tatin at my house has not changed since I first got it figured out, thanks to Patricia Wells. I have no plans to chill out on this issue in the future. I do not claim authenticity, but rather hold this of no consequence, because it is all about the charming and tasty end product. I'd be glad to try your tatin, your way, at your house. I've even stuck a fork into a strange, deconstructed restaurant version, featuring a towering stack of pastry squares and poached apple slices in a cage of spun caramel. I probably couldn't recreate the latter if I tried, but anyhow, I emphatically don't want to. I am willing to try all sorts of upside down fruit pastries using other techniques, but this is my one and only apple tatin.
Sometimes my tatin looks pristine and elegant, sometimes ordinary, or even a little dumpy, but it always and reliably delicious. It is comforting food in the extreme, but a treat, rather than everyday fare. It ain't no meatloaf, though it is cosy enough to follow one for dessert. I would rather eat it than the classiest of pastry chef cakes. There is a bit of bother, but no extraordinary skills are needed; it makes the house smell delicious. I'm pretty sure that if someone made it for me, I'd love them forever. Or, for awhile, conditionally at least. This pie, without more, certainly won't make you any enemies.
Though I am not a fan of the Golden Delicious apple for eating out of hand (mealy, icky), I believe it is the perfect apple for this tart. I will not be moved from this position. Should you wish to make this recipe with another apple (and P. Wells herself does so), I will not be responsible. (I will, however, interrupt this screed briefly to advise you that if you do use a different apple, you must use all apples of the same sort, and preferably of more or less the same size. Please believe this, it is all true. In this way, as in several others, the Tarte Tatin differs from a classic American apple pie. If you were making an American As Apple type pie, a mixture of various apples would be, as you probably know, a fine plan. End of sub-screed.)
But I hope I have persuaded you to go with the Golden D, because in cooking, especially in cooking this way, it is transformed-sweet, slightly spicy, soft- yet holding its shape. You will need 8 or 9 of them, 10 ounces of unsalted butter, and 2/3 of a cup of vanilla sugar, or regular sugar and a tablespoon of vanilla. Also, you will need a 10" round of pastry, short or puff, rolled, trimmed and sitting in the fridge nice and flat. You will also need a well-seasoned 9" cast iron pan or other reliably unsticky, heavy pan. An actual tarte tatin pan-copper, with little ears on either side for turning would be splendid. Santa has yet to turn up with one for me, so I use the cast iron. Get out the bulb baster, too.
At some point, you should preheat your oven to 425F. You needn't do this at once, because you are going to cook the apples for at least an hour before the tart goes into the oven. So. Spread the sugar evenly in the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter in thin slices, and distribute them to cover the bottom of the pan, in one layer. Sprinkle with the vanilla, if you are using plain sugar.
Now peel, halve and core your apples. Set them in the pan, with the outside rounded part against the side of the pan, on edge. Once you have closed the circle, make a second circle of halves inside, facing the same way, also on edge, In the space in the center, place one half, curved outside downwards. As you cook these apples on top of the stove, they will shrink, and begin to slide into place. You can nudge them towards their final positions, from time to time, as you cook them, for about an hour, basting frequently, until they are entirely soft and ready to eat. Keep in mind that when they go in the oven, you want them all with the closed curved side down (cause that will be the top in the end), packed tight.
If you make this tart often, you will notice that as the juiciness of the apple varies, the carmel syrup may be more or less thick, or runny. It is best quite thick, so if you see it more liquid than usual, you can sprinkle some more sugar over in the last 15 minutes or so on the stove. As you baste, it will melt into the sauce, and thicken it. Don't do this the first time though- the pastry absorbs some liquid, and you won't be able to judge that until you've seen the whole process a few times. There have to be some advantages with experience, after all. But don't worry- it will be super good even if it is swimming in overly-juicy, messy liquid.
You can more-or-less see the starting arrangement in the lower photo, though I cannot take a decent indoor food picture to save my life. Once the apples are perfectly cooked and arranged in place, take the pastry from the oven and set it over the apples, tucking in the parts that extend beyond the pan rim. Put it in the oven, on a cookie sheet or other drip catcher, and cook 35-40 minutes, or until the pastry is done. Remove from oven and place a large serving platter over the top of the pan. Over the sink, and protecting your hands well, flip the tart over, onto the serving plate. Remove pan. Carefully (they are soft), replace any errant apples, and mop up any particularly goopy, out of place wetness with a damp paper towel. Serve warm or cooled, preferably the same day, but the leftovers, if any are not to be sneezed at.