I’m quite happy to use regular shortcrust instead of rich sweet pastry for puddings – I quite like the savoury contrast with the sweet topping, and by the time you’ve added cream, which generally you do, it’s rich enough. Here, you can caramelise the apples in advance for the tarte tatin and simply drape the pastry over them and do the final baking when you’re ready. Or you can make it all in advance and eat it cold. You will need a very clean, heavy-based sauté pan, about 24cm across, with an ovenproof handle, or a tarte tatin pan.
150g flour quantity rich sweet shortcrust pastry (or 250g ready-made shortcrust pastry)*
120g soft butter
150g caster sugar
2kg cooking apples, more or less the same size
cream or crème fraîche, to serve
Using your fingertips, spread the butter over the surface of the pan and up the sides, then sprinkle over the sugar as evenly as possible. Peel the apples, cut in half from top to bottom and remove the core – some will split, but don’t worry too much as you’ll want some smaller chunks to pack the pan properly. Standing them upright, with the stalk sides uppermost, pack them as tightly as possible into the pan so that they have no room to move.
Place the pan over a high heat and cook the apples until the butter and sugar begin to caramelise and the apples start to soften (about 10–15 minutes). You need to find the right temperature to caramelise and soften the apples without burning them, so turn down the heat a little if they seem intent on burning, and increase it if there appears to be a lack of colour to the apples and the juice is threatening to flow over the sides. From time to time turn an apple half towards the centre of the pan to check the amount of colour on the base. Once the majority of the apples are a medium gold, the tart is ready for the oven. At this point you can allow them to cool; the last stage will take 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Roll out the pastry to approximately 3cm wider than the diameter of the pan and leave in a cool place. When ready to bake, cover the apples with the pastry, tucking the excess between the fruit and the pan. Don’t worry if it gets crumpled, this will add to its rustic charm. Make one large incision in the centre to allow the steam to escape. Place the pan on a baking sheet to catch the drips, and then put it in the oven for 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden.
Remove from the oven and place a serving dish upside-down over the top of the pan. Invert both in one confident movement, allowing all the juices from the pan to arrive on the plate with the tart. Eat straightaway, or later with lots of cream or crème fraîche.