Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

At last I’ve found a successful recipe for tarte tatin. For some reason until last weekend my attempts at this dessert were disappointing: either they collapsed on being turned out or the sugar didn’t dissolve to make a sufficiently yummy caramel syrup. The recipe which worked for me on Sunday is by Raymond Blanc and is surprisingly easy and straightforward, which is a joy because I find recipes by great chefs are often, well, chef-y, involving lots of complicated steps and therefore not for a simple home cook like me. How could I resist a recipe allowing me to use bought pastry (the trick of freezing the rolled out disc was a revelation) and to keep the peel on the apples?

There is more than one story about how this upside down apple tart recipe came about. The one I choose to believe tells how Stéphanie Tatin (who, with her sister, ran the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron in France) was making an apple pie one busy day and left the apples and sugar for too long until there was a smell of burning. She tried to rescue the pudding by putting the pastry on top of the apples and placing the whole pan in the oven to finish off. She turned out the tart and served it to her guests who, to her surprise, loved it!

Tarte Tatin

Pre-heat conventional oven to 180ºC

You will need an 8″ tarte tatin tin like this:

Ingredients

  • 8-12 dessert apples (I used Braeburn)
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 60g cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 30g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a small bowl towards the back of the Aga)
  • 250g-300g all butter puff pastry (shop-bought!) rolled to about 3mm thick and cut into a disc slightly larger than the diameter of the base of the tin, pricked with a fork and frozen

Method

  • Place the water in the tin and sprinkle over the sugar; leave for 2 minutes to allow the water to absorb the sugar
  • On a medium heat/the Aga simmering plate cook the syrup until it’s a pale golden caramel. The heat of the simmering plate might be a bit fierce and you don’t want the caramel to get too dark so you could slow this stage down by placing the tin in the simmering oven while you prepare the apples
  • Cut the apples in half horizontally and core them. Slice off the rounded tops and bottoms so that the apples can sit flat in the tin
  • Stir the diced butter into the caramel syrup until it’s melted
  • Sit the apples, with the middles uppermost, in the tin in a single layer, packing them in as tightly as possible. Press them down with your hands as you go
  • Brush the apples with the melted butter and place the tin on a baking tray and in the baking oven for 30 minutes
  • Remove the tin and place the disc of pastry on top. Tuck the sides in if you can and prick a few holes in it with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven for about 40 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown
  • Leave in the tin for about an hour to cool (although I can confirm 15 minutes is enough: I was short of time) before turning it out and serving warm with cream or ice cream. Monsieur Blanc says it can also be made the day before, refrigerated and then reheated.

 

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Summer “Cooking”

Maybe I’m just making excuses to be lazy but the summer weather means I haven’t felt much like baking or cooking recently.  It hasn’t even been consistently hot and sunny but here in Bristol, even on the wet, grey days, it’s been muggy: not the sort of weather conducive to standing next to a hot oven for a few hours.

The solution is either to get your husband to barbecue or to prepare salads and light dishes requiring minimal cooking time.  I have managed to achieve both of these and thought I’d share with you some of the recipes we’ve enjoyed.

First up, this courgette tart, which was an excellent way of using up some superb homegrown courgettes a friend had given us.  The recipe is by Rose Prince and appeared in the Saturday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks ago.  You will see that she recommends making your own rough puff pastry but I went for second best and used shop bought pure butter puff pastry.  I was not that successful at getting my courgettes to form “ribbons” but it didn’t matter that much.

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Next, burgers.  This was a very last minute supper.  It was a lovely warm evening and so we shelved our original supper plans and youngest son popped to Waitrose to buy some ground beef (not too lean) and burger buns.  All I do to make burgers is add ground black pepper and an egg, mix well and shape.  I don’t add onion or salt or garlic.  This way you can really taste the beef and get additional flavours from the sauces and other toppings you serve alongside (eg gherkins, ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes).  Sometimes we sandwich our burgers in ciabatta but, to be honest, the regular burger buns with sesame seeds work perfectly.  On this occasion, in addition to the toppings listed above, I found some red Romano peppers in the fridge which I halved, deseeded, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt for my husband to grill on the barbecue.  J invited his friend round to join us and by the time we were ready to eat it was nearly dark so we lit some candles and tucked in.  Impromptu evenings like this are very often the most enjoyable.

Once again, my latest favourite cookbook, Honey and Co., came up trumps when I wanted a simple fish recipe the other Friday.  The recipe in the book used sea bream but I could only get sea bass fillets; I doubt there’s much difference.  I just roasted the fish fillets (one each) in the Aga roasting oven for 8-9 minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning and squirted on some lemon juice at the end.  The salad ingredients are as follows (for 4 people):

  • 4 small Lebanese cucumbers or 1 long one
  • 250g red grapes
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, fronds picked and chopped
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g pain yoghurt (I used Greek style)

Peel the cucumber to create a zebra-striped effect, slice in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds.  Chop into crescents and place in a large bowl.  Wash and halve the grapes and add with the chopped herbs.  Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix well.  Spread two tablespoons of yoghurt on each plate and pile some salad on top, ready for the fish when it’s cooked.  Et voilà.

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is one of my favourite summer salads.  On summer holidays in France I would always order it.  But what is it exactly?

Last weekend I decided to make it when my son W and his fiancée were home, but realised I’d never used a recipe and always just made it up as I went along.  Browsing some of my cookery books, magazine cuttings and Google, I realised that there were many different versions of this salad.  I consulted Twitter too: there were as many people declaring potatoes were definitely not to be added as there were those who insisted on them.  What to do?  The wonderful Felicity Cloake had of course done the research in this article in her “How to make the perfect” series, but her “perfect” recipe was not my perfect one.  In reading about the salad, I was surprised at how many chefs, including Felicity, did not include tuna.  For me, this salad is one of the best vehicles for tinned tuna.  I was also surprised that green beans were not a regular addition.  I liked the raw broad bean idea but it would be more time consuming for this fairly lazy cook.  (I also didn’t skin or deseed my tomatoes: what of it?)

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a an agreed upon, universal recipe for Salade Niçoise but what does it matter?  Make a salad with the the ingredients you like and which you have to hand.  On this particular occasion, mine was made with new potatoes which I added to the vinaigrette (some say mustard is a no no but I’m not one of them) while still warm, green beans, cooked and refreshed in cold water, tomatoes, tinned tuna, black olives, anchovies (essential) and hard boiled eggs.  I also added cucumber but this was a mistake: too watery.  It may not have been authentic, but with crusty ciabatta to mop up the dressing, it made for a delicious Saturday lunch.  And next time I make it, it might well be completely different.