Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Nov 7, 2011 01:38 PM

Tarte Tatin, Caramel, and mushy Apples

I made a tarte tatin last night for the first time, using a basic, classic recipe. And there's something I don't understand. It seems to me that the sugar never truly caramelizes, only the butter browns and you can make that a caramel color. The temperature necessary for sugar caramelization is well beyond the temperature for good apple structure, it seems to me that mushy apples are guaranteed in this recipe. Indeed, the apples are exuding water because... they are overcooking!

All the recipes recommend using tart, baking apples to keep their shape, and cooking on the stovetop for an hour, but all this could easily be avoided.

Or why not make a wet caramel to a light amber stage, with apple juice if one prefers, then add the apples and butter, and then bake? I will do it again next week, but just wondering if anyone every tried it this way before.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. don't know what recipe you are using, but julia child's recipe in "the way to cook" works very well (i've made it many times, as recently as last week) and the stove top cooking of the caramel is done before adding the apples, after adding the apples is apples about 20 minutes stove top, and the oven cooking after adding the dough is about another 20 minutes, and the apples do get soft, but they do not turn to mush and they do retain their shape (i've made it with various types over the years, including y. delicious, northern spy, and cortlands)

    4 Replies
    1. re: qianning

      I used Patricia Wells' recipe. The JC recipe also calls for heating the butter with the sugar; sugar caramelization happens at like... a very high temperature. Butter burns at the temperature of caramelization. In fact, my butter was brown and my sugar hadn't even dissolved. So is the tatin caramel a true caramel, or just browned butter and dissolved sugar?

      1. re: jaykayen

        I don't know enough about baking and candy making to really answer your question, I am sure others can chime in. I do know that when I make the tart using the JC recipe when the butter browns, even if there are still a few lumps lumps in the sugar, it is time to add the apples or you will get burnt butter.

        When all is said and done the sauce that coats the apples is thicker than a syrup but not as dense as a chewy caramel candy.

        I've never had trouble with too much liquid, but JC has you macerate the apples in sugar and lemon juice and then drain before adding them to the pan, which definitely reduces the water content of the apples. Using an apple variety that hold its shape is also key.

        1. re: qianning

          I just looked at the Patricia Wells recipe, VERY different from either the JC or the Molly Wizenberg approaches, which are very similar, you might want to try either of those instead. Saveur Cooks French also has a great truly old fashioned recipe for tarte tatin, but it takes two days to make! I think the JC short cut version is good enough for me...

      2. re: qianning

        This was actually just on Jaques Pepin's current show (Essential Pepin) two weeks ago. IIRC he also cooked the caramel first to prevent exactly this.

      3. Some apple varieties hold their shape better when cooked than others. Golden delicious will keep their shape, granny smith will fall apart.

        2 Replies
        1. re: babette feasts

          In the SF Bay Area, one of the 'hounds' favorite tarte tatins comes from Le Bedaine in Albany. The owner told me the same. He uses Golden Delicious because they have more pectin and hold together.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            According to Cook's Illustrated it's not just the pectin, but the gases used to store apples for year-round sales. Some varieties hold up while others have their pectin broken down sufficiently to make them mushy. Thus freshly picked apples shouldn't be a problem, but if you're buying them from the store you'll want to avoid those Grannies. Along with GD they suggested Braeburn and Honeycrisp.

            I just made a crisp the other day using a roughly similar method and the Golden's came out wonderfully in it.

        2. The recipe I use if from Molly Wizenberg - aka Orangette from her book. I just checked it.
          It seems that the key is you are not truly MELTING the sugar and making caramel until after the apples are added.
          What I mean is, you cook the butter and sugar on med-low heat slowly until it is a light amber. The proportion of sugar to butter is 4 to1, means the sugar is present in enough quantity that the butter will melt into it and not burn.
          After you put the apples into the light tan sauce, then you raise the heat a bit and cook on top of the stove about 20 minutes. As the apples cook and release juice, they mix with the sugar and allow there to be enough moisture so that the caramel can take the higher temp and continue to darken, but not burn.
          Then, as in the JC recipe mentioned by qiannning, you cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes more until pastry is cooked.
          There is actually enough extra juice by then that I usually have to spoon or pour some off before unmolding onto a platter so the pastry doesn't sog out in the first 5 minutes.
          Works like a charm. Have never had a burning butter or caramel problem.
          Sigh, tho it is sad - I love this, my french BF does not, so don't make it often. This is a dessert that can inspire CRAVINGS!

          1. As others do, I make this dessert with Honeycrisp or Golden Delicious apples.

            I also follow these steps for the non-crust business: -- and it's funny because it's on a gluten-free site but the gluten-free part is a purchased pie crust..

            It starts by melting the sugar without butter, which seems a slight departure from Julia Child, and though I'm not her, I've not had the apples turn to mush or butter to bitter.

            As a side note, does anyone else find it excruciating not to disturb a pan while it's doing something like caramelizing sugar? I'm a fusser-over, and there are times it comes out in force..