Recipe adapted from Canadian Living Magazine (October 2014). This French apple pie is legendary. While the pastry is not unusual, the filling is made in a cast-iron skillet (mine is ancient and has been to many campgrounds). The pie is then baked in the skillet (?!?!). When baking is complete, the pie is turned upside-down onto a serving plate. A whole lot of work, but the result was pretty amazing. Tremendous excitement/anxiety over whether the apples would flip out more or less in one piece, but it did work.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup cold butter cubed
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons ice water (approx)
- 5-6 apples
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/2 cup sugar (recipe said one whole cup sugar but 1/2 seemed just fine)
- half vanilla bean halved lengthwise
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick halved lengthwise
In large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix egg yolk with ice water; drizzle over flour mixture. The recipe says “toss with fork” until mixture clumps but I always use my (clean) hands to make sure the dough isn’t over-worked. I needed an extra teaspoon of ice water. The recipe says, if necessary, you can add up to 2 tsp more ice water. With floured hands, quickly press into 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick disc. Wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Apple filling: Meanwhile, peel, quarter and core apples; halve each quarter lengthwise. Set aside. In 10-inch (25 cm) cast-iron skillet (mine was a bit bigger), pat butter to cover surface of cold cast-iron skill, then heat to melt over medium heat.
Stir in sugar, vanilla bean, star anise and cinnamon (these will be removed before baking); cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Wedge apple slices tightly to fill pan. I only used five apples but wished I’d used all six. They do shrink a bit when they cook. Here’s the part that needs patience: Cook, gently stirring and turning apples and basting with liquid by tipping and rotating pan, until apples are tender and syrup is thick and golden caramel in colour, about 30 minutes. You really have to keep an eye on this so they caramelize but don’t burn. It’s fussy. Luckily I had a friend visiting and we chatted the whole time. When done, remove from heat. Discard vanilla pod, star anise and cinnamon stick. Cool a bit. Recipe says to refrigerate pan on rack for 20 minutes but I just let it cool a bit while I rolled out the pastry. Try to arrange apples in pan into overlapping concentric circles. You can see from the photo that mine was less than perfect but still pretty.
On lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 11-inch circle between two sheets of plastic wrap (this is a secret I always use for pie pastry, with excellent results). I found this dough a bit hard to roll out but it still came out fine. Drape the pastry over the somewhat cooled apple mixture, tucking edge in between pan and apples. Cut 4 steam vents in centre of dough. Be sure to tuck and be sure to cut steam vents.
Bake in 425 F oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F; bake until crust is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes.
Invert heatproof platter over taret. I just used a big serving plate. Then here’s the scary part: wearing oven mitts, turn pan upside down onto platter; carefully lift away pan. With spatula, remove any apples stuck to pan and arrange over tarte. A couple of apples did fall away but I was able to put them back on top of the pastry. Spoon any pan syrup over top; let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
It might be gilding the lily, but pie can be served Canadian style with vanilla ice cream. The French might add a dollop of crème fraîche.
Page 166: “Later that morning, Sarah and Michael and Laura are lingering over brunch at Laura’s apartment. She lives on a tiny street, rue Agar, in the 16th, the fanciest of all fancy arrondissements in Paris, where parfumeries surely out-number grocery stores. Laura has made them pissaladière, a flatbread with onion, olive and anchovy topping, and then a green salad which she’s served, French style, as a separate course after the main course. The pièce de résistance is dessert, a tarte Tatin, apple upside-down pie, which Laura has also made herself – she was just putting it in the oven when they came in. They’re squeezed around the table on her little rooftop patio, Laura and Michael delicately sharing a cigarette. He’s trying to quit. Sarah’s standing on tiptoe, looking across the river where she can just see the top of the Eiffel Tower.”