Tarte tatin, along with many of these fads from across the channel, is one of those recipes which seems to have a bright orange sticky label emblazoned with “This recipe is hard. Do not attempt” stamped across the mental recipe book of every student cook. What lies the French tell. It’s just upside down. Simples.
Tarte tatin began its long and illustrious life, like many culinary delicacies, as a mistake. The story goes that the two sisters who ran Hotel Tatin in the small town of Lamotte-Beuvron during the 19th century were stressed from cooking one day, and made an upside down apple tart by accident. Not all the French agree with this story, including certain Parisian patissiers of the time who claim the glory for themselves.
However, whatever the origin, the tart remains a classic, and in a slight twist on the recipe I am using pears instead of apples, and liberals amount of brandy. Because as my father says, “no pudding is properly pudding unless there’s some alcohol in it.”
6-8 small pears
100g granulated sugar
3 tbsp brandy
500g puff pastry
Preheat oven to 200C. Core, peel and halve the pears. Put the butter and sugar into a wide-based pan with a metal, not plastic, handle, on a high heat. Gently stir together until the butter is melted and becomes syrupy.
Add the pear halves and cinnamon to the pan, and keep turning them and covering with the syrup. It should eventually turn caramel coloured and the pears will begin to caramelise themselves. Continue for about 10 minutes until pears are golden brown. Add brandy and flambé for a minute (depending on how much alcohol taste you want) then take off the heat. Don’t let the sugar burn.
Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin. Arrange the pears flat side up with thin end pointing inwards in the pan, in a tight circle, then cover with the pastry, making sure to tuck it in around them.
Put the whole pan into the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until pastry is golden and flaky. You may want to pour off some of the syrup after about 15 minutes cooking. Place a large plate over the pan and carefully flip the tart onto it. Prepare for a bit of spillage, and serve hot with lashings of cream.