This easy version of the classic French upside-down apple tart is a two-stage recipe. First the apples are cooked in butter and sugar on the stove top. Then the caramelized apples are placed in a cake pan, covered with dough and baked in the oven. (In the traditional recipe, the apples are caramelized in an oven-proof skillet that is then covered with dough and transferred to the oven. Many everyday chefs, including myself, lack such a skillet, so I found a different way — which works just fine.)
For best results, choose an apple variety that will hold together during the cooking process — otherwise, you will end up with applesauce. In France, choose Reine des Reinettes, Boskop, Pink Lady or — if nothing else is available — Golden. In the States, try Cortland, Jonagold, Rome Beauty or Fuji. In England, well, there are so many varieties to choose from, including wonderful heirloom apples, that the best idea is to ask around. Bramley apples might be a good choice.
Other keys to success: Use a cake pan with straight sides, not a pie pan with sides sloping outward. For relaxed preparation, make the dough in advance. Serve the tart warm. If serving immediately, invert the tart onto a large plate as soon as it comes out of the oven. If serving later, leave the tart in its pan and reheat briefly when ready to serve. Then invert it while it’s still hot.
For the pate sâblée
1/4 lb. (110 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. white sugar
1 cup (130 g) plus 2 tbsp. flour
For the filling
2-1/2 pounds (1.2 kilos) apples (see above)
1/4 pound (110 g.) salted butter
3/4 cup (160 g.) sugar
Begin by making the pie dough (pâte sablée).
In a medium-size bowl, cut the unsalted butter into small pieces. Using two knives, cut in the egg yolk, then the sugar, then the flour. This is easily done. Simply hold the knives parallel to each other and cut in opposite directions.
When the butter is well coated with flour, go in with your hands for the final blending. Mix until the dough is no longer sticky and holds together. You may need to add a bit more flour. Form the dough into a ball, place on a clean plate and refrigerate.
Now make the filling.
Quarter the apples. Peel the quarters and remove the cores.
Use 1 tbsp. (15 g.) of the salted butter to grease the bottom of a 9-inch (23-cm) cake pan with straight sides.
Melt the rest of the butter in a large skillet, preferably nonstick. Scatter the sugar over the melted butter. Turn the heat down to medium and place the apple pieces in the skillet, fitting them closely together. Since the pan is hot, use a spoon to arrange the apples. It’s fine if they overlap.
Cook the apples for about 30 minutes without disturbing the pan. This will allow the butter and sugar to caramelize. Keep an eye on things to make sure the caramel sauce doesn’t burn. When the sauce has turned a deep golden brown, remove from heat. Tip: do not try to taste the hot caramel — it will burn you.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (350 F, 180 C).
Flour a large board and roll the chilled dough into a circle, rolling from the center to the edges. If the dough breaks, simply pinch it together. You are aiming for a round of dough that is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wider all around than your cake pan.
Place the cake pan upside down over the dough to check. If the circle of dough is not wide enough, roll it out a bit more. When it’s wide enough, and using the upside down cake pan as a guide, cut away any excess, leaving a 1-inch border all around.
Using a spoon, place the apples very gently into the cake pan. Start with the edges, placing the apple quarters with the curved side facing the edge of the pan. Then fill in the center, placing the apples curved side down. Spoon any extra sauce over the apples.
Cover the apples with the round of dough. The easiest way to do this is to roll the dough gently over your rolling pin, and then unroll it over the cake pan. Tuck the extra dough in around the edges. Don’t worry if the dough cracks — just pinch it together. It will not be visible when the tart is turned out upside down.
With a sharp knife, cut three slits into the dough. Place in the oven and bake 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
While the tart is baking, get out a large cake plate that is wider in diameter than the tart. You will need to have it standing ready when the tart comes out of the oven.
When the tart is ready, remove it from the oven. Working quickly while the tart is still hot, place the large plate over the cake pan and invert, using oven gloves to protect your hands. Give the cake pan a sharp rap with a knife, then gently lift the pan away. Some bits of apple may stick to the bottom of the pan. Not to worry — simply spoon them onto the tart. No one will notice.