This recipe comes from the January 1996 issue of Cooks Illustrated. I tried it for the first time when we were living in Uzbekistan about a decade ago, and it has never failed to impress. The trick is to start by caramelizing the apples in sugar and butter in an oven-proof skillet on the stove, with slices arranged in a circle. Then cover the entire pan with an egg pastry that contains confectioners’ sugar rather than granulated sugar, which can make the dough grainy.
Cooks Illustrated prides itself on testing and re-testing their recipes until they find the perfect ingredients and preparation method. However, every time I have made this tarte, I have managed with half the amount of apples called for in the recipe, each cut into six wedges rather than four. Perhaps if I followed the recipe precisely, I could fit more fruit into the pan. But I’m afraid that the apples wouldn’t fully cook. Try it for yourself and let me know how it turns out.
- 1⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surfaces
- ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled and cut into ¼-inch pieces
- 1 large egg (cold), beaten
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
- 3 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, and cored (I usually use only 1½ pounds.)
- 1 cup heavy cream, cold
- ½ cup sour cream, cold
1. For the pastry: Mix flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Scatter butter over dry ingredients; process until mixture resembles cornmeal, 7-12 seconds. Turn mixture into medium bowl; add egg and stir with fork until little balls form. Press balls together with back of fork, then gather dough into ball with hands. Wrap in plastic, then flatten into 4-inch disk. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated overnight; let stand at room temperature to warm slightly before further use.)2. Unwrap dough and turn out onto well-floured work surface. Sprinkle with additional flour. Starting from disk center outward, roll dough into 12-inch circle, strewing flour underneath to prevent sticking. Slide lightly floured, rimless cookie sheet or pizza peel under crust, cover with plastic, and refrigerate while preparing apples. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position; heat oven to 375ºF.
3. For the filling: Melt butter in 9-inch skillet. Remove from heat and sprinkle evenly with sugar. Arrange apple slices in the skillet, thin side down and with an end touching the skillet wall. As you continue to arrange apples, lift each slice on its edge while placing the next slice, so that the apple slices stand up. (Note: I can never manage to keep the apples standing upright. They always slide back and around the pan. Don’t worry—it will turn out all right.)
4. Return skillet to high heat; cook until juices turn from butterscotch to rich amber color, 10 to 12 minutes. If the caramel isn’t cooked to a rich amber color, the apples will look pale and dull rather than shiny and caramelized. Remove skillet from heat and, using fork or tip of paring knife, turn apples onto uncaramelized sides. Return skillet to high heat; boil to cook uncaramelized sides of apples, about 5 minutes longer.
5. Remove skillet from heat. Place prepared dough over skillet, and, taking care not to burn fingers, tuck dough edges gently against skillet wall. Then place the skillet into the oven and bake until crust is golden brown, 25-30 minutes.
6. Set skillet on a wire rack, and let it cool about 20 minutes. Loosen the edges of the crust with a knife. Place a serving plate over the top of the skillet, and turn the tart upside-down, then remove the skillet. Scrape out any apples that stick to the skillet, and put them back into place. The tart can be kept for several hours at room temperature, but unmold it onto a dish that can withstand mild heat. Before serving, warm the tart for 10 minutes in a 200ºF. oven.)
7. For the topping: With an electric mixer, beat cold heavy cream and sour cream at medium-high speed until the mixture thickens and holds soft peaks. (The topping can be made a day ahead; cover and refrigerate.) Accompany each wedge of tart with a generous dollop of topping.