A mistake while catering for elites gives rise to the famous Tarte Tatin

November 19, 2012

Just forty minutes south of Orleans, and two hours south of Paris is the town of Lamotte-Beuvron.

Napoleon III of France, Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1852, Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, bought the chateau. Starting then and continuing after his 1853 wedding to Eugénie de Montijo, Napoleon III made the town one of his country escapes. He renovated the chateau, built the church and public buildings. The Emperor’s sojourns and those of his wife, Empress Eugénie, resulted in the town being visited by many distinguished people. Their presence and lifestyles encouraged the local population in its pursuit of quality, refinement and excellence.

Portrait of the Empress Eugénie, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

The Tatin sisters, who had inherited a small hotel in town from their father, joined in this cultural ascension. While Caroline greeted the guests, showed them to their rooms, and made them feel at home, Stéphanie managed the kitchen.

Stéphanie & Caroline Tartin

One day in the late 1880’s, Stéphanie set out to make an apple pie. Exhausted from a long day’s work, she started the frying of the apples in butter and sugar, but then forgot they were there. Only when the apples were burning did she realize her mistake. Instead of discarding the caramelized apples and starting anew–whether for lack of time, energy, or ingredients, we do not know–she pondered for a moment if there was a way to salvage the dessert.

Photo of the Hotel Tartin in 1938.

She decided to try something new: Instead of filling the pie pastry with the fried apples, invert the order, and put the pastry atop the apples. In no time her tarte was in the oven for a final browning. When she served it, her guests were immensely pleased. Her mistake, and her happy inspiration, have ever since been rightly famous as Tarte Tatin.



Here is the “genuine”recipe, the most “accurate” replica and the one that the Lichonneux prefer. It is the recipe as held by Le Grand Maître du Secret.


For the dough:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Sift together the flour and salt into a medium bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, work in half the butter until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal.  Cut in the rest of the butter, using a fork, until the dough becomes crumbly.

Adding one tablespoon at a time, distribute the ice water over the crumbles and mix until the dough just holds together.  Again, use a fork as needed, and add extra ice water if the dough is too dry.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch round, place on wax paper and put in the refrigerator till ready to fill.


A Tarte Tatin Photo by Wmeinhart

The filling:

Move an oven rack into the upper third of your oven and heat the oven to 375°.

Peel approximately 6 medium apples, or 3 pounds (using very firm apples, such as Red Delicious or Golden Delicious). Cut them roughly into quarters. Set aside. Melt 2/3 cup of Butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the peeled apples and to fit in your oven.  Sprinkle 1 Cup of sugar onto the melted butter. Arrange the apples, side by side with the curved side down, filling the gaps with large slices.  Heat (the mixture in your skillet) on medium heat, letting the mixture cook for 10-12 minutes until the apple juices turn to deep amber. This will caramelize the apple mixture.

Then place the skillet in the heated oven. When the mixture is bubbling and the apples have started to become tender at the end of the allotted time (for approximately 1/4 of an hour), turn each apple piece over, so as to cook the formerly exposed side in the mixture.  Keep the stove on, but cook the second side of the apples for only about 5 minutes.

Take out your pastry dough, which should be  slightly larger than the diameter of the arranged apple mixture, and put the dough on top of the apple mixture (the mixture has to remain in the skillet). Gently tuck the edges of the dough against the inside walls of the skillet, being careful not to burn yourself. Then put it back in the oven until the crust turns a deep, golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes.  Loosen the edges of the tart with a knife or a flipper. Place a serving dish over your mold and turn out quickly. Serve immediately. You can let the tarte stand at room temperature for up to 8 hours (see note below for re-heating).

Simply serve as it is, that’s it.

Tips, Suggestions and Comments:

If you prepare your tart in this way, the apples will be impregnated with the natural caramel resulting from the combination of the cooked sugar, butter and the juice of the apples, taking on the smoothness and exceptional taste that characterize the genuine Tarte TATIN.

Under these conditions, the addition of cream or flaming with alcohol on service would simply change this unique taste: thus it is to be avoided.

If the tart has been prepared previously, heat in a low oven for 10 or so minutes before serving.

Never heat a Tarte TATIN in a microwave oven because the pastry would be affected.

To accompany your Tarte TATIN, why not try a light red wine (from Sologne for instance) or an excellent cider?


Recipe and cooking suggestions taken from: http://web.archive.org/web/20021003185159/http://www.tarte-tatin.com/english/page/recette-en.html

and http://thesocialistkitchen.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/thank-you-tatin-sisters/



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