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One French word: Tatin, a French recipe: tarte Tatin

Another proper noun which has become an adjective : Tatin (invariable, with or without a capital T), pronounced Ta-tang (that is, the sound of tang, without any emphasis on the final g).

La tarte des demoiselles Tatin: two famous sisters, Caroline and Stéphanie, at the end of the 19th century inherited a hotel-restaurant from their father in Romorantin in the Sologne region of central France (an area covered in forests and lakes, where the French kings loved to hunt, and where some of the Loire châteaux are to be found). Caroline dealt with what would now be known as the “front office”, Stéphanie was in the kitchen. Her speciality was apple tart, a particularly melt-in-mouth, caramelized version. And myth would have it that one day, she got it all wrong and prepared it upside down. The tarte Tatin was born, and it must now be one of the most famous recipes in the whole of France.

Originally made of apple, it is now made of anything you care to turn upside down, with more or less happy results. But I have a few savoury recipes to share with you later qui valent le voyage (which are worth the journey).

Tarte tatin

Here is my recipe for an apple tarte Tatin :

For 6 people you will need:

  • A ready-rolled  26cm circle of good quality puff pastry
  • A round pie dish about 22cm across, 4cm deep, which you can put onto a burner (i.e. non stick metal probably), in French this is called a “moule à manqué”
  • 125 gr caster sugar
  • 50gr butter
  • 1kg Golden Delicious apples (the apples you use must not “melt” during cooking)


  1. Pre heat the oven 180°C.
  2. Peel and core the apples, cutting them into quarters.
  3. Make a caramel: if you don’t have a pan that goes on the flame, use a saucepan.  Put the sugar in the pan, add a dash (no more than a tbs, less probably) of cold water and put the pan on the burner at moderate to high heat.
  4. Protecting yourself with an oven glove, shake the pan occasionally to distribute the melting sugar. DO NOT STIR. Watch closely, the sugar will turn pale gold, dark gold and then brown (see photos below). You want it brown, but not black and burned. Bear in mind that the heat of the dish will continue to cook the sugar after you remove it from the heat, so don’t leave it too late. You can remove the dish several times while you ponder the state of readiness of your caramel, and put it back again if it is not quite done enough. Shake, tip, BUT DON’T STIR. Making caramel is really easy, you just need a bit of practice. There is about as much myth surrounding it as making home-made mayonnaise. If you don’t get it right the first time, start again! You’ll soon get the hang of it.
  5. As soon as your caramel is the right colour, off the heat put the butter in on top of it in smallish cubes. If you are doing it in a saucepan, pour it straight into your tart dish.
  6. Place the apples in the dish, rounded side downwards (cored side upwards). Put them in a circle all around the outside of the dish, then continue with a circle inside that circle, and so on until the dish is filled. Pack as tightly as possible but keep a nice regular pattern. Fill the gaps with little chunks of apple, and slice the equivalent of two apples all over the top (photos below).
  7. Place the puff pastry on top of the apples in the dish, and tuck in the overlapping edges.
  8. Put into a hot oven and cook for about 30 minutes,  until the puff pastry is golden. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for a few minutes.
  9. If you are making this dessert in advance, leave it as it is for the moment, do not remove from the dish and leave it sitting on its puff pastry base, this will get soggy. The tart should be served warm, and it is easier to warm the whole thing up if it is still safely in the dish. Just pop it back in the oven for a short while.
  10. When you come to serve the tart, take a serving platter which is bigger than the pie dish. Place the serving dish face downwards on top of the puff pastry. Being careful that any hot juice that might spill will not hit your wrists, turn the whole thing over briskly. You now have the serving platter underneath, and the upside down cooking pan on top. Shake a couple of times to loosen the apple, and remove the cooking pan. You should have a perfectly beautiful caramelized apple star on a puff pastry base. If any pieces of apple stick to the pan, just replace them in the pattern before anyone notices.

Starting off the caramel

Caramel starting to colour

Caramel ready to put the butter

Buttered caramel in the bottom of the tart dish (the streaks are the pattern on the dish)

How to place the apples

The second layer of apples

The pastry on top

This tart is best served as it is, maybe with a bit of cream, but certainly not ice cream. Should there be any left over (this is quite a rare occurrence), reheat to warm in an oven, not the microwave which destroys puff pastry.

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin upturned and ready to eat

I also make individual versions of this in small oven dishes. But I make the caramel in a saucepan and pour a little into each dish before arranging the apples. The pattern is not as satisfying, because the apples don’t fit regularly round a small dish, but it does produce oohs and aahs when the individual upside-down helpings are brought to table.

Tarte tatin

Lots of photos, but they do show you how it all works.

Bon appétit.


About OneFrenchWord

I was a professional linguist and have been a life-long foodie. I am now lucky enough to be retired and free to roam the beaches around my home at the tip of the Finistère (Brittany, France). Writing is occupying a larger place in my life, with this blog and a children's book in preparation. I shall feel much happier calling myself a writer when I have published a book. And so posts on OneFrenchWord will be published first as an e-book, my ambition being to see a glossy volume on French language and cuisine in print some day. So keep reading, and snap up the book when it appears!

16 responses »

  1. I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

  2. originalapplejunkie

    Why do you have such awesome recipes *she cries*
    Apple is like my favourite thing in the world..

    • Well I went a bit over the top here with the recipe and its pictures. But there was such a lot to explain, and I took so many and didn’t know which to choose. Trouble is at the moment that it’s usually dark by the time I take pictures, so they come out a bit grainy. Roll on summer and a bit more light!

  3. Mmmmm… Mine never turns out this good (for I have tasted the author’s Tarte Tatin), or this perfect-looking!

  4. Tarte Tatin is my absolute favorite dessert to order in French restaurants here. It can be so different, sometimes not good, depending on who makes it; now I really want to make yours!!!

    • I think “not good” depends on the amount of sugar (it can be terribly sweet), and when it was made. Nothing like eating it almost straight out of the oven. When it is yesterdays, not so good. And of course some restaurants pretend they made it when in fact they bought it in a carton (in France at least).

  5. The wow-factor of this is very high! One more of your recipes I just have to try (despite the fact that I am no crevette!).
    Caroline, don’t for a minute think that you use too many pictures, at least for me they are extremely useful and instructive. Your blog is becoming a fantastic book!

  6. I’ve never tried making it, although I’ve often eaten it. However, I do know that the great-great niece of the Tatin sisters runs an upmarket B&B in the centre of Toulouse and makes it for her clients.

  7. Pingback: One French word: pignon, a French recipe: Tatin d’aubergine | One French Word

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