French Lessons

When life gives you apples, make chef Joël Antunes’ tarte tatin


Now that we have a nearby cache of Arkansas black apples (did you hear that North Pulaski Farms will harvest their first bounty this fall?), we turned to Capital Hotel’s executive chef, Joël Antunes, for some advice on how to make this humble ingredient sing. His answer? An apple tarte tatin—a staple in the French repertoire. His love for the dessert began, as most things do, in his childhood—more precisely, in the kitchen of his home in Volvic, France, where his mother would whip it up as a Sunday treat come fall. Coaxed from its maker (his maman) and tinkered with (but just a little), the recipe is simple, unfussy and familiar. When pitted against the buttery, crumbly crust, the acidity of the warm, tart apples pulls this concoction into balance. Top it with a scoop of crème fraîche, vanilla ice cream and caramel, and this recipe might just end up in your cherished family collection, too. 

For the pâte brisée (crust):

612 grams all-purpose flour

132 grams cake flour

24 grams powdered sugar

271 grams shortening, cold

271 grams butter, cold

12 grams salt

3 eggs

30 milliliters white vinegar

128 milliliters iced water

For the apple filling:

2 apples (local Arkansas black apples will do great, he says)

100 grams sugar

10 grams water

50 grams butter, cold


For the pâte brisée:

In a mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients until combined. Add shortening and butter, and mix with paddle attachment of a stand mixer until crumbed. Add eggs and vinegar, slowly adding water until dough comes together. Divide dough, wrap tightly and allow to rest overnight. Roll dough until it’s 5 millimeters thick; cut two circles slightly larger than skillet. (Set one half aside to use for another tart later.)
For the apple filling:

Place sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pot (chef Joël uses a 7-inch skillet, but your 10-inch will do fine, he says), heating slowly until it reaches a nice amber color and produces a caramel. Remove from heat and add butter. Mix until smooth. Peel and cut the apples into 8 pieces each and remove the core. In the bottom of your skillet place the caramel sauce. Arrange apples like a flower on top of caramel to fill skillet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until apples are soft. Remove from oven and drape a circle of pâte brisée over apples, tucking edges of dough between apples and skillet. Poke several holes in pâte brisée, which will allow steam to escape. Return to oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Invert onto a serving dish while tarte is still warm.