I'm afraid to say it out loud for fear that I might jinx my good fortune, but in just one week I'm heading over to France to start getting my first culinary tour organized. The last few months of herding French producers into setting defined agendas (a similar process to ushering a hundred children through a candy store), over-analyzing every possible thing which could go wrong, quadruple checking logistics, and recipe testing ALL the foods are about to come to an end.
The recipe testing has been particularly interesting because I'm 100% sure that I'll get to Provence and realize I need to make some ingredient substitutions based on what's in the markets, or, conversely, not available as a grocery staple. That's how I like to cook anyways, so I'm not too stressed about it, but does make creating guides for everyone else significantly more difficult.
So let's start with an easy one: Tart Tatin. A classic French dessert if I ever saw one. You'll easily be able to find all of the ingredients for this tart at any market. And if you're lucky you'll even be able to snag the apples from a neglected roadside tree (there were many musings on whether roadside trees spring up predominantly from people throwing cores out of moving vehicles while we were driving through Oregon and California last week).
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
5 medium, firm, tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 8
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Large pinch of coarse salt
To make the crust, blend the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add the butter all at once and pulse until you get a coarse, sandy texture. Add the sour cream and continue to pulse until until the dough forms large clumps. Dump out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a ball. Flatten the ball into a 1/2 inch thick disk, using the plastic wrap as a barrier between the dough and the palm of your hand. Refrigerate (or freeze if it's particularly hot out).
Using either a DEEP pie pan or cast iron skillet (2 inches deep, 10 inches across the top), rub the remaining butter all over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle all of the sugar over the butter so it's sticking everywhere. Do yourself a favour and do this over the sink so you don't make the world's largest mess.
Put the pan over medium heat until the sugar/ butter combination starts to foam. DO NOT STIR.
Being careful not to burn your fingers, arrange the apple slices around the outer edge of the pan, overlapping as you go. You want the rounded part where the skin was to be touching both the bottom and the side of the pan. Continue filling the pan with more circles in the middle. Make sure the slices are nice and snug. With the burner on medium high LEAVE IT ALONE until an amber coloured caramel starts bubbling up between the slices. If your apples are liquidy and start to shrink, you can fill in the gaps with more pieces.
At this point preheat the oven to 400 F.
Retrieve your pastry and roll it out on a floured surface into a 10 inch disk. You want it to just cover the top of the apples.
When your caramel is bubbling and the apples are starting to soften, use a spatula to push the apples down and towards the middle. This will make them more compact and give you a bit of space around the edges to tuck in the pastry. Fold your pastry disk into quarters (half, and then half the other way) to make it easy to transport. Carefully place the first quarter and then quickly unfold the rest, tucking any extra into the gap between the apples and the pan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and juices around the edges are deep amber. Remove from the oven and let sit for 1 minute. Using a large plate, oven mitts, and all of your courage, hold a plate over the top of the pan and quickly flip the tart out onto it. Have a spatula on hand in case you need to scoop out any apples which get stuck.
Wait 15 minutes before serving or I swear you will burn your mouth and be so unhappy.