The tarte Tatin is so named because it is said to have been invented by Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin of the Hotel Tatin in the 1880s. So, if you happen upon a restaurant menu that fails to put a capital ‘T’ on ‘Tatin,’ thereby ignoring the contribution of the sisters, then you have my permission to red pen the menu card and hand it to the front of house as you leave.
The history of tarte Tatin is more complicated than many people are prepared to accept. Tarte Tatin appears to be a version of tarte solognote, which originates from Sologne in Northern-central France, which is the area surrounding the Hotel Tatin. Tarte solognote is indistinguishable from tarte Tatin both in look and manufacture. Therefore, it seems that the story about the invention of tarte Tatin by the Tatin sisters may be utter nonsense as there was a contemporary dish exactly like it being produced in exactly the same area for quite a long time.
Regardless, there are two tales that have been attributed to the invention of the tarte Tatin at the Hotel Tatin. Both involve Stéphanie ballsing up an apple pie. Here are the options:
- She was making an apple pie and left the apples in the butter too long and nearly burnt them. She rescued the gig by putting pastry on top, popping it in the oven and turning the dish out.
- She baked a caramel apple tart upside down by mistake (unlikely).
Whatever the genesis, Hotel Tatin had great success with the dessert and had it on the menu as tarte solognote – again casting serious doubt on the veracity of Stephanié’s kitchen mishap. The sisters certainly never named the dish tarte Tatin in their own lifetime. But there is more craziness … It is said that a young Louis Vaudable, who went on to own Maxim’s of Paris, tasted the tarte and was so taken by it that he asked for the recipe. When this request was curtly refused, Vaudable took a job as the hotel gardener – a tenure that lasted only three days. Vaudable said”
“I was fired when it became clear that I could hardly plant a cabbage; however this was long enough to pierce the secrets of the kitchen; I brought the recipe back and put it on my own menu under ‘tarte des demoiselles Tatin.'”
Of course, like all cool food stories, this one also turns out to be complete bollocks. Vaudable was born in 1902, and the Tatins retired in 1906. Not many four year-olds take jobs as gardeners while conducting industrial espionage in search of a recipe for an apple pie.
In truth, it was food writer Curnonsky (real name Maurice Edmond Sailland), the so-called ‘Prince des Gastronomes,’ who actually coined the term ‘tarte Tatin,’ after a visit to the hotel. Curnonsky is considered by some to be the inventor of gastronomic motor tourism as espoused by Michelin. This is incredible for the simple fact that Curnonsky could not drive a car. Nevertheless, his trip to Hotel Tatin, and his delight at the tarte could be summed by his famous catchphrase”
“Et surtout, faites simple!”
(keep it simple)
Hotel Tatin can still be found at Rue de Vierzon, 41600 Lamotte-Beuvron, France.
- 100g caster sugar
- 60g unsalted butter, chilled
- 6 Braeburn apples, cored and cut into 8 segments per apple
- 10g unsalted butter, melted
- 300g ready-rolled puff pastry
Heat an oven to 180˚C.
Place the sugar in a tarte dish with a splash of water. Heat the sugar until it melts and turns the colour of golden syrup. Take the sugar off the heat and mix in the cold butter until melted. While doing this the caramel will turn a rich, brown colour.
Arrange the apple in a circle, core sides up and then fill in the gaps. Press down firmly and brush over with the melted butter.
Put the dish in the oven and cook the apples for 30 mins. Once cooked, remove the dish and allow it to cool. You need to get it cool enough to touch or you will melt the pastry and burn your fingers in the next step.
Cover the dish with the pastry and trim to to the edge with the knife. Tuck the edges down into the caramel all the way around, ensuring the edges reach the bottom of the dish. Put the tarte in the oven for 40–45 minutes until the pastry is golden. Turn out onto a plate while still hot.