Urban gardens and community orchards are never quite how I envision they should be–something like an orchard out of a juice commercial on television, laden with ripe fruit. The reality is that most ripe apples are out of reach, the remainder are green, mainly nibbled and even more loll at the foot of the trunk, hidden in the grass or nearby bushes.
What make these orchards different is the closeness. The fruit, though sometimes it may be difficult to nice, is quite abruptly there. It is a closeness that extends not only to hidden strawberries and dry saskatoon berries, but to the hail-pockmarked and bruised apples littering the ground. It’s probably only something I started appreciating recently when the kind lady who lends her time at the community orchard passed us a bag full of windfall apples she had collected from the ground this past fall.I decided on a tarte tatin, where a deep golden brown caramel will camouflage even the most thoroughly bruised apple. Besides, the apples had retained sufficient structural integrity to destine them for more than apple sauce.
Beyond the practical aspects, I also wanted to make something very very much about the apples. While I intended to, in some manner or another, transform the apples (or at the very least, well trim the apples), these were not trivial apples. Apples are never trivial, but these ones in particular, after being collected and given to us, deserved to be heard. Or, at the very least, tasted.This is tarte tatin the way my (Chinese) grandpa taught me to make it (except with a lot less butter). It is simple and intuitive, because there is little that can go terribly wrong with butter and sugar and apples. For a while it was always the dessert of choice either of us would make. A few slices would be traded back and forth, accompanied by some comments on the crust, the caramelization, the crispness, and form.
The comments we made were never with the strict intention and purpose of improvement. The method was always so vague and lacked the systematic nature of a protocol that would have allowed for rigour and evaluation. These days I notice that I’ve probably developed sufficient common sense that this tarte tatin, completely out of the blue and with little reference beyond my vague memories of previous days, turned out just fine.
The key, I believe, is attaining proper caramelization. I wouldn’t worry about things burning in the oven; bring the caramel as deep as you would like it to be on the stovetop, and then the addition of the apples provides sufficient moisture to prevent the bottom from scorching while it bakes. In the past I would also partially cook the apples on the stovetop. I decided that wasn’t necessary, and this time just layered the apples in, threw the pastry overtop, and set it immediately in the oven. Perhaps it took longer, but by the time the pastry was browned, the apples were tender but not overcooked.
Do enjoy, particularly if a sudden windfall (of apples) comes your way.windfall tarte tatin
~3 tbsp butter
~3/4 c sugar
pastry, of any sort; I made a batch like what I made here, scaled to 1 stick of butter
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Peel, quarter and core the apples. Melt the butter in a cast iron pan, sprinkle the sugar overtop, and cook until it forms a deep caramel. Arrange the apple slices overtop.
Roll out the pastry and tuck over the apples. Bake the tarte tatin for around half an hour or until the pastry is browned and the apples below are cooked through.