I’ve always joked that the only way I’m going to live in a house again is if someone gives me one.
A few months ago, I heard about a contest, which happened to be somewhat local to me, in which a house in a tiny town up in the foothills of The Sierras was being given away. The town was Jackson, in Amador County, and the area is called “The Gold Country” due to the part this region played in the California gold rush. The contest submission required a dessert recipe that had never been published and $100. I usually don’t go for these types of things, but in this instance I said, what the heck!, it will get me out of The Escape Pod, get a roof over my head, and also get me out of The Bay Area, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.
I wrote up the recipe below, an edited version of my original Tarte Tatin recipe. I couldn’t think of anything else to submit – with my change in diet, my favorite desserts have turned into oranges, or apples, or berries. The current owner of this property was going to test the top ten recipes, so I had to be sure that what I submitted represented my best work.
A Tarte Tatin is not as difficult to make as its reputation leads us to believe. It’s one French version of an apple pie and the ingredients are simple – apples, butter, sugar, flour. In order to make this recipe submissible to the contest, I only had to change a few ingredients. So I added the spices.
I was absolutely sure that this recipe was going to win me this house.
I was so sure in fact, that I spent a lot of my allotted daydreaming time visualizing how I was going to make the move and live there, what kind of new friends I would make, and how I would create a massive permaculture organic vegetable and fruit garden on the grounds. I visualized my art studio. I visualized my friends and family coming to visit from time to time and I even thought about finally opening that vegetarian/vegan cafe I’ve been thinking about. I visualized it so hard that I even wrote up a document, so that I could keep all my ideas straight and focused.
But, the contest was cancelled – one can only speculate that it was because there weren’t enough submissions – and my recipe along with the $100 is being sent back to me this week. So, no house – I’m still bound to The Escape Pod for now – but now I can publish my winning recipe myself!
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You will need to simmer the apples in an 8-inch oven proof pan, like a cast iron skillet, or a chef’s pan, one in which the handle can go in the oven.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4 big crisp apples, like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji. You don’t want apples like Macintosh that will cook down to sauce. The apples you use for this dish have to be able to stand the heat.
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of cardamom
1/4 tsp of ginger
1/4 tsp of vanilla
1 cup of pastry flour or 1+1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour
1/2 stick of butter
pinch of salt
dash of lemon juice
4+ tablespoons of ice water
Peel and quarter the apples.
Melt the butter over a medium heat on the stove.
In the pan, mix the butter, spices, vanilla, and the sugar together.
If the mixture thickens, spread evenly over the bottom of the pan.
Arrange the apple quarters into a circle around the pan, fill the middle of the circle with apple too.
Turn the heat up. Your pan will dictate how high the flame should be, my pan is medium high, a cast iron pan would probably be high.
Let the apples simmer in the butter and sugar until the mixture carmelizes – starts turning brown.
When the butter and sugar have carmelized, you will remove the pan from the burner/flame but before that happens, you should have enough time to make the pie crust below.
Making the crust:
While the apples are simmering – or before you start the apple process – make a pie crust by mixing the above pie crust ingredients together.
Make this in a place where you can keep an eye on the apples simmering.
At first, cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or by cutting the flour with two butter knives, one in each hand, striking back and forth.
Once the butter has been cut down to pea size then add the liquids (water and lemon juice) and spread those through the flour.
Then get in there with your hands and mix up the pastry dough.
You want to be careful to make sure that all the flour is absorbed, but not wet, and that you don’t overwork the dough.
If the dough is too wet, add more flour to it.
If you’ve made the crust ahead of time, just set it aside for when you are ready to do the following:
Form the dough into a flat disc at least 8 inches wide – as wide as your pan – or a little larger.
You can do this either by rolling, or just pressing the crust with your hands into a large disc shape.
I happen to like the rustic look of an uneven, hand-formed, crust.
If the crust is larger than the pan, the edges can, and should be, be tucked into the sides, so don’t worry about having too much pie crust dough.
Putting It Together And Baking:
When the butter and sugar have carmelized, remove the pan from the burner/flame, if you haven’t already.
Carefully place the crust over the top of the pan, being careful to either tuck the extra crust into the sides of the pan without burning yourself – use a spatula or flat wooden spoon to do so, or folding it back over itself so that it just meets the edge of the pan.
Put the whole pan into a 350 degree oven for about 20 – 30 minutes, or until the crust has turned golden.
Remove from the oven.
Let sit until the tarte has cooled a bit.
Take a serving plate – one that the tarte will generously fit on – and place it over the crust.
Being VERY CAREFUL, because it’s hot, flip the plate and the pan together, so that the tarte ends up on the plate, crust side down, apples up.
Serve warm with crème fraîche, vanilla ice cream, vanilla frozen yogurt, or vanilla Coconut Bliss.
Note: When I flipped the tarte that I had made in the photographs above, I had a Julia Child moment where the apples slid off of the crust. No matter. I slid them back on as best I could. The tarte itself wasn’t as pretty as it could have been, but it tasted divine.