This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week three (tart week) of series three: tarte Tatin.
I have very fond memories of making my father a classic apple tarte Tatin – at his request – from Linda Collister’s reliable and good The Baking Book when I visited him in Dubai as a teenager. It was a bit of a struggle in some respects – I cooked the apples and caramel in a standard baking tin on the glass stove-top rather than in an ovenproof frying pan, and lacking a scale I had to approximate the amount of butter used in the pastry by eye. The result was more like shortbread than shortcrust, but it was, as you might expect, utterly delicious against the fragrant, caramel apples, and my father very kindly gave me his copy of The Baking Book which so entranced me all of that summer. Linda Collister is still one of my go-to cookery writers and The Baking Book my first port of call when looking for a baking recipe. This book is no longer in print (though you can regularly find used copies via online retailers, and it’s well worth seeking out), but fittingly enough Collister is actually the author behind the Great British Bake-Off branded cookbooks (they do include handfuls of recipes from the contestants and judges, but the majority are Collister’s – and I think she should get more recognition for this than she does).
According to the stipulations of The Great British Bake-Off challenge, the tarte Tatin could be sweet or savoury, but contestants were instructed to use rough-puff pastry. I thought this was quite interesting; most recipes guide the cook towards using store-bought puff pastry, but of course rough puff is not something you can commonly buy. I don’t know how regularly it’s used in professional kitchens: at a party, my friend Juliet’s boyfriend, who is a trained chef (Cordon Bleu, bien sûr), told me they hadn’t been instructed on this pastry. ‘Rough puff’ certainly sounds a bit amateurish, but you can style it out by calling it ‘pâte demi-feuilletée’.
(Another interesting thing about tarte Tatin is that – despite being named for its inventors, the sisters Tatin, it seems perfectly acceptable to write the ‘tatin’ in lowercase).
Despite my happy memories of the classic tarte Tatin, I opted to make something a bit different. My first attempt was a pear tarte Tatin, using Collister’s recipe as a guide. Unfortunately it didn’t work with the pears: juicy as they were, I couldn’t cook out sufficient liquid, and the resultant caramel was extremely thin and overwhelmed the somewhat delicate rough puff pastry, resulting in pear-caramel-soaked layers (yes, delicious). I did intend to try it again and perfect the pear Tatin but, as so often happens, I became first distracted and then obsessed by the idea of a chilli-spiced salted caramel pineapple upside-down cake. From there it’s a short walk to a pineapple tarte tatin.
The juiciness of the pineapple pieces is retained even after cooking into caramel sauce and baking, and their intense, tropical sweetness contrasts beautifully with the slightly salted caramel. The idea of adding salt and chilli to the pineapple was inspired by the typically Malay way of eating it with these additions. I grew up in Singapore and there’s truly nothing like eating a pineapple that has ripened in the sun to honeyed perfection, cool from the fridge, sprinkled with salt, sticky juice running down your face and arms and chest, under a humid sky. In Singapore we grew tiny, perfectly round, pink-skinned pineapples in our enormous garden for many years. It seemed so normal. Of course in the UK you can really only get your hands on the large, oval pineapples whose skin is yellow when ripe but is typically sold hard and green, straight off the plane from Costa Rica. They can still be delicious when the craving hits, but they are undeniably a little monotonous in taste and fibrous in texture.
A lot of recipes calling for pineapple will used tinned chunks. I used fresh, but I honestly don’t think that it makes a huge amount of difference after cooking. If buying fresh pineapples, you will have to buy them in advance and coax them into ripeness (not to mention the peeling and winkling out of the eyes); if using tinned, ensure you have drained the chunks thoroughly of their juice.
The pastry recipe is a scaled-down version of the recipe from the master of patisserie, Michel Roux Senior, a man whose very rare appearances on television utterly captivate and charm me.
The full recipe is below the jump.
Pineapple tarte Tatin
Note: I’ve given a weight for the prepared pineapple, but the amount you use will depend somewhat on the size and depth of the oven-proof pan you are using at the start.
You will need an oven-proof pan that you can also use on the stovetop for this recipe. I use a 21cm cast iron skillet which I love deeply and have seasoned to nonstick over many years of tender care.
For the pastry
Method and proportions from Pastry: Savoury and Sweet by Michel Roux
- 150g plain flour, plus a little extra to flour your work surface
- 150g very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- pinch fine salt
- 3-4 TBS ice or at least very cold water
- Place the flour in a large bowl or in a mound on the work surface and make a well in the centre. Stir the salt through.
- Toss the butter cubes through the flour so all surfaces are coated. Rub in the butter with your fingertips (or cut it in using a pastry cutter, which I enjoy doing), ensuring that you are drawing in flour from the edges into the centre.
- When the butter resembles a mixture of small flakes and breadcrumbs, gradually add the water bit by bit until it is incorporated and the dough comes together. Handle the dough as little as possible during this process and don’t add too much water; you don’t want the dough feeling tacky.
- Pat the dough into a flat disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill for around 20 minutes (not too much longer if you can help it, as very chilled dough will be difficult to work with).
- Very lightly flour your work surface. Roll out the pastry to a 40x20cm rectangle. Fold it into threes by folding the pastry over itself in thirds, as you would fold a piece of paper to fit inside an envelope, then fold the rectangle in half on the vertical side to make a slightly smaller, squatter rectangle (folding puff pastry is hard to describe but easier to do).
- Turn the pastry block 90 degrees (giving it a quarter turn) and roll the block out to a 40x20cm rectangle again. Repeat the folding process (into thirds, then in half horizontally) again. Wrap the pastry block in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, repeat the process described above twice, to give a total of four times of rolling and folding. The pastry is now ready, but you will need to wrap it in cling film and wrap it for at least 30 minutes before using.
For the caramelised pineapple
- 800g prepared pineapple (peeled, cored and eyes removed if fresh; drained completely if tinned), cut into chunks (maybe 2cm or so if you want more precision)
- 80g unsalted butter
- 80g light brown soft sugar
- 1 red chilli, halved and deseeded (keep a few seeds if you want it hot)
- 1 stick cinnamon
- good pinch flaky salt, plus a little more for sprinkling if wished
- In your good stove and ovenproof pan, melt the butter over a gentle heat and stir in the sugar. Drop in the cinnamon stick and chilli halves. Cook further, letting the sugar dissolve completely. This may take some time. Let the buttery, spicey caramel bubble and thicken for a few minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium-low and add the pineapple pieces. You may need to do this in batches – I found as they cooked down over a few minutes they shrank significantly, and you want to avoid too much shrinkage, which will leave the pastry sad and naked and shivering.
- Cooking the pineapple pieces, adding more chunks as they shrink if required. They will release a lot of juice and the caramel sauce will get quite thin. Keep stirring it all together. Your aim is to cook out the excess juice, because baking will release yet more water and you want to avoid the pastry from getting soggy. Once the juice in the pan has reduced significantly and the caramel sauce is slightly thickened once again, remove the pan from the heat. (It’s hard to say exactly how long this process will take as it depends on many factors – the juiciness of the pineapple, the surface area of the pan, even the material it’s made of, but allow yourself a good 20 minutes, if not more)
- Let cool a few minutes, then taste the caramel sauce. Add a good fat pinch of sea salt to taste, stirring thoroughly.
- Pat the pineapple pieces down so they are evenly distributed in the pan and let everything cool down while you prepare the pastry.
- Once cool enough, fish out the cinnamon and chilli pieces. If you like, reserve them for
To assemble and bake
- Remove the pastry from the fridge. If you have chilled it for a long time, it may need some time out of the fridge – 20 minutes or so – to be pliable enough to work with.
- Preheat the oven to 190C.
- Roll out the rough puff pastry into a circle slightly larger than the diameter of your pan. Drape the pastry over the pineapple pieces, pushing the edges down to the bottom of the pan so it is tucked around all the fruit pieces. Fold back any excess pastry so that you create a slight pastry rim around the edge, which will catch any excess caramel sauce. (Note: the image below shows the pastry rim idea but I didn’t leave it that messy, but pinched in the folded-over pastry and tucked it over neatly to avoid it gaping).
- Prick the pastry evenly across the bottom with a fork or thin skewer (to allow excess air to escape so it doesn’t puff up so much it escapes the pan completely!)
- Bake for around 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and crisp and you can smell the pineapple and caramel stewing together. Some of it may have bubbled up under the rim of the pastry – this is okay!
- Remove from the oven and let cool around 15 minutes to half an hour before inverting – this again will depend on the material of the pan as well as the ambient temperature of the house. Cast iron gets blisteringly hot and I’d be scared to touch it before the full 30 minutes. However, it’s essential that the dish doesn’t cool down completely or the caramel will harden and stick. Cast iron retains heat so it will remain fluid even after lengthy cooling. If you have used a thinner or lighter metal, give it a bit less time to cool.
- To invert, rest a lipped or rimmed plate slightly bigger than the circumference of your pan upside down onto the pan. Lift the pan and hold the bottom of the pan in the flat of your hand (obviously you must wear a double oven glove for this process). Hold the plate firmly in place with your other hand. Quickly flip the whole thing upside down. Place the plate – right side up, with the pan on top – onto your work surface and gently wiggle the pan a little to loosen it, then remove it. If all has gone well, your tarte Tatin should be fruit side up on the plate.
- Decorate, if wished, with the almost glacéed chilli pieces and the cinnamon stick, and sprinkle with a good fat pinch of flakey salt.