apple and quince tarte tatin
A little over a year ago, Joseph and I began a new tradition that my sister and brother-in-law started years ago: Apple Day. You can get the full description of Apple Day straight from my sister in this post from last year (please pardon the photos, we were still working things out), but basically it’s a day to celebrate fall and one its finest fruits. To really do Apple Day right, you’re supposed to have apples in every meal of the day, but last year Joseph and I only managed to get apples into dinner with maple-mustard pork tenderloin and caramelized apples served with some delicious hard cider.
This year we did things right. I mean, my sister and brother-in-law drove up to Boston all the way from Philly just for Apple Day! We started the day with hot mulled cider and cider donuts out at Honey Pot Hill Orchard, then for lunch we made panini with apple smoked cheddar and apples. For dinner we celebrated with a Belgian apple lambic as an aperitif and then Joseph made amazing (and enormous!) smothered pork chops with apples and cider from America’s Test Kitchen, which we served up with Farnum Hill Cider. And then there was The Dessert.
I have to admit, I was uninitiated to tarte tatins, but after seeing photos online, I was determined to make one. What’s truly spectacular about tarte tatin is that melted butter and sugar meld together into caramel on the bottom of a skillet as you cook the fruit in it. David Lebovitz’s book Ready for Dessert has a recipe for an apple and quince tarte tatin that instantly drew my attention. I had never cooked with quince before and didn’t really know much about it. I had seen it in recipes in colonial American cookbooks, and had come to the delusional conclusion that no one really cooks with it anymore.
Quince is a cousin of the apple, but do yourself a favor and don’t just bite in; they have to be cooked. Eaten raw, they are incredibly astringent and tannic, so they’re not really your ideal afternoon snack. I was incredibly nervous as I was cutting them up. They were so hard. Were they not ripe enough? Maybe I hadn’t picked them well at the market. Maybe their skin wasn’t supposed to be slightly fuzzy and there was something wrong with them.
In truth, I should have worried more about my tarte tatin technique. I read a few recipes before beginning and noticed that the recipe in the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook said to wait half an hour before removing the tart from the skillet so when the timer buzzed just after I took my first bite of pork, I decided as I pulled it out of the oven that it could wait. Thirty minutes later, scraping at the sides of the skillet with a knife trying to release the tart or at least get it to budge, I realized I had made a critical error. Caramel in a cast iron skillet and I wanted to wait half an hour? What was I thinking? It turns out that the Cook’s Illustrated recipe has you make it in a nonstick skillet. Ah. That would make more sense.
We got the tart out and pieced it back together before devouring it. Even in pieces it was beautiful and tasted divine. There are a ton of apple tarte tatin recipes out there, but Lebovitz’s recipe is the only one that I saw that uses quince. Remember my hesitation with the quince? Oh man. Do not skimp on the quince! It is not something you want to miss out on! The caramelized quince is positively intoxicating. The apples are the much needed, very lovely and talented supporting characters but quince is clearly the star of this tart. Paired together, they are perfection: an all-star cast.
I was unwilling to let this amazing tart be remembered as the heap of pieces that came out of the pan on Apple Day (delicious as it was). The next day I got up, made another crust and made another apple and quince tarte tatin, this time flipping it over to release the tart the very second I pulled it out of the oven, watching to see what would happen with bated breath. Success! Just a couple of stray apple bits that needed to be reunited with the rest of the tart and that was it! But see how dark it is on one side? The second time around I got lazy and didn’t spend the entire 25 minutes tilting the skillet over the burner to over-correct for my horribly slanted stove top. So two lessons learned here: make sure your pan is level (more or less) for as much of the 25 minutes it’s on the stove as possible and invert the tart onto your serving plate as soon as you take it out of the oven. Oh, and one more thing. Go. Now. Run to the store and pick up some quince and make this today (or better yet, for Thanksgiving)! It is going to blow away any other apple dessert you’ve ever had!