me and julia

I promise that I am not writing to profess my undying love for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You guys have already seen that movie and so have I. A few times. And besides, Julia’s opus is not in heavy rotation on my cookbook shelf- the bulk of the dishes aren’t exactly in the wheelhouse of a meat-eschewing, atherosclerosis-fearing, crunched-for-time girl like myself.

But while I might pass on the famous boeuf bourguignon, if someone could distill and bottle Julia’s culinary fearlessness, I would buy it by the case. I find myself turning to her recipes often when I crave culinary adventure. I’m not talking about adventurous flavors or ingredients per se, I’m talking about flipping over red-hot cast iron skillet and holding your breath to see if you’ll end up with a nice apple tart or a useless pile of goo. Who needs sky diving or bungee jumping when there are adrenaline rushes like that in your very own kitchen?

This was my first attempt at tarte tatin, and I was fully prepared to serve it as a crumbly mess rather than the lovely, molded creation of apples, caramel, and pastry that might have graced Julia’s kitchen. The big flip- turning over the skillet while hot out of the oven to unmold the tart- must be executed with at least two oven mitts and with breakneck speed and with the makings for a stiff drink on hand in case you screw the whole thing up and need to mourn the loss of your beautiful French dessert.

Sorry, that’s my flare for the dramatic getting the best of me. I’m happy to report that my tarte come out far from perfect but more-or-less in one piece. And I’m feeling pretty inspired to pursue some Julia-inspired kitchen adventures in the future, so stay tuned. In my opinion, it’s always the crumbly, gooey messes that taste the best anyway.

Tarte Tatin

(A note about equipment: you’ll need a heavy, oven-proof skillet since the tart goes straight from stovetop to oven. I used a cast iron that is about 9″x2″)

For the crust:

1 c flour

1/2 t salt

1 T sugar

6 T butter, chilled and cut into 1/2″ dice

1/8 c vegetable shortening.

1/4 c cold water

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter or two forks until well combined and the butter pieces are the size of peas or oatmeal flakes. Drizzle the water over the mixture and use one hand to just combine all the ingredients. Knead a few times in the bowl so it all holds together, then turn out onto a well floured surface. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough forward bit by bit in a 6″ smear to combine the fat and flour. Give it one final knead, form into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for 1 hour or in the fridge for a few hours until it is firm but not solid. You’ll roll it out after you make the filling.

For the filling

5-6 apples (whatever kind you like to bake with)

Juice of  1 lemon

1 1/2 c sugar

6 T butter

Peel, quarter, and core the apples and slice the quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon juice and 1/2 c sugar and let sit for 20 minutes so they will exude their juices. Drain.

Set the skillet over medium high heat and melt the butter. Add the sugar and cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the syrup is bubbly and golden brown. Don’t burn it, and don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy. It will smooth out once you add the apples.

Remove from heat and add the apples to the pan, arranging as many as will fit into the bottom later. Heap the rest of the apples on top, not worrying to much about making them neat. They will shrink down as you cook. Return to medium heat and cook for several minutes. Press the apples down with a wooden spoon and use a baster to draw up the caramel and baste the apples. This seems like a tedious step but it helps the apples to cook uniformly and soak up the caramel. When the apples begin to soften, cover and cook another 10-15 minutes, until the juices are thick and syrupy. Continue to check and baste often. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly while you roll out the crust.

Flour your countertop well and roll out the crust into a 10″ diameter circle with a rolling pin. Fold it in half to transfer it to the pan.

Top the apples with the crust, tucking it in on the sides around the apples. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until the pastry has browned slightly.

Now for the fun part: flip it over! Turn the serving dish upside down over the pan and flip to unmold the tarte. If some of the apples stick to the pan, just press them back down and rearrange them as necessary. Serve hot, warm, or cool. Bon apetite!

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