Apples and Iron
A long time ago there were two sisters in Lamotte-Beuvron France named Caroline and Stephanie who owned a hotel. As legend would tell, one day Stephanie, the sister who did most of the cooking, was cooking apples in sugar on the stove and walked away forgetting the apples until they were quite caramelized. To keep them from being a total loss, the sister put a pie crust on top and baked it in the oven until the crust was brown, inverted the pie onto a plate and thus Stephanie invented the Tart Tatin. It was so well received by the guests of the Tatin sisters, that it soon became a permanent dessert on the menu.
This dish was invented in the 1800’s and I would be willing to bet that Stephanie used cast iron cookware to make this tart. I made one today in my favorite 9″ Wagner Wear skillet and it was even easier than pie! Apples make a difference too. My friend Lynn has a friend who owns an orchard and she brought back some delicious Galas and Yellow Delicious to share. Both are great for pie making but in this dish I used the Yellow Delicious.
The ingredients are simple:
- 5 peeled and sliced apples
- 1 cup sugar
- 1tablespoon water
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 and 1/2 cup flour
- 3/4 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 tsp salt + 1 good pinch
First I address the crust because it takes the longest to prepare. I make it by putting all the dry ingredients (flour, salt) in a mixing bowl, then cutting in the shortening by smashing the shortening with a fork and tossing the flakes that squeeze between the tines with back into the flour. I whittle the ball of shortening down to nothing and continue to smash the big flakes into smaller and much thinner flakes by smashing them against the sides of the bowl and swirling the bowl around and around until pencil shaving like curls of shortening and flour appear. The less you mess with these light flakes the better.
Add just enough of the ice cold water to this flakey flour and shortening mixture to allow it to stick together. Don’t stir more than just toss it around until the dough just comes together. Push it into a ball on one side of the bowl and scoop it out and place it in a plastic wrap sheet, flatten it a bit, and wrap it up and let it chill while you cut up apples.
I use an old fashioned apple slicer on the apples I’ve already peeled. I discard the cores, lay the apple slices in the greased iron skillet arranged in a pin-wheel style that covers the bottom completely. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly symmetrical flower. I sprinkle 1/2 of the sugar over this design and all of the cinnamon. In the center I place the tablespoon of water to make sure the apples would steam a bit first and not scorch the sugar. The rest of the apples I cut in smaller chunks, about 1/2 inch, then the rest of the sugar goes on top and I crank on the heat just to start the apples cooking. The smaller apples are just to fill in the cracks and to help the crust lay smoothly on top while it bakes.
So yes, the crust. It has been in the refrigerator long enough to be workable. I generously flour the counter and the surface of the dough and roll it out in a circle while the apples simmer a bit. I trim the now 1/4 inch thick dough into a slightly bigger circle than the top of the skillet. My knife is a good guide because it is 9 inches long. I make an impression of it in the dough, vertically and horizontally in the shape of a cross and easily cut out a circle a quarter at a time. The circle fits just right with a little bit extra I could tuck down in the edges until the surface is completely flat. A few vent holes I think might be in order. A pie needs a place for steam to escape. I bake this at 400 for an hour.
It needs to cool a bit before I’m be able to invert it on to a plate. When inverting you still need to wear oven proof mitts or use good pot holders because you need to shake that tart down and out until you feel it plop onto the plate. With a well seasoned skillet it only takes one shake. That’s why I’m sure Stephanie was an iron chef. It will need to further cool so the juices will thicken. In the meantime, by the looks of the crust it will surely be flaky…another reason iron has its advantages…The dark color and ability to distribute heat are others, not to mention that cooking with iron does add iron to your diet. Fortified apple pie sounds good to me!
My tart was a little juicy at first, probably because I didn’t wait long enough before I sliced it (who could) but each slice became more solid as I cut. The taste was simply fantastic! And and the apples looked like glistening jewels in the light. Simple and easy to make, this dessert has become an instant hit at our house too. Stephanie Tatin, you’re my kind of gal!