When it comes to a dessert, a baked upside-down anything is a winner -- even when it's a mistake. A tarte Tatin is a classic French upside-down fruit tart, traditionally made with apples. It's named for the Tatin sisters, who created the upside-down caramelized tart, purportedly by accident, in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, in 1898. Legend has it that one of the sisters inadvertently omitted the pastry in an apple tart. The dessert was nimbly salvaged by placing the crust on top of the fruit, in a wonderful example of kitchen improvisation, which gave rise to a timeless dessert. (Wouldn't it be nice if all kitchen disasters yielded such successful and delicious results?)
While tarte Tatins are often prepared with apples, they are also a lovely way to showcase other seasonal fruit, such as pears. Best of all, they are beautifully imperfect. Once you get the hang of making the caramel and performing the final inversion of the tart onto a plate, a tarte Tatin is unfussy and pleasing, and, in this case, irregular and uneven -- and more charming for that.
This recipe has a sour cream pastry, which creates a crumbly, cookie-like crust. As the tart bakes in the oven, the caramel from the fruit filling will bubble up in spots through the crust. This is a good thing. The crust will continue to bake, and when the tart is finished and cooling, the wayward caramel will harden and coat the crust with a shiny shellac of sweetness. Need I say more?
PEAR AND CARDAMOM TARTE TATIN
Active time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus chilling time for the dough
Yield: Serves 8
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
6 large Bosc or Anjou pears, peeled, cored and halved
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg, beaten to blend, for glaze
Prepare the dough: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is pea-sized. Add the sour cream and pulse until moist clumps form.
Gather the dough into a ball, and then flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (The dough may be made one day ahead and refrigerated until use, or frozen for up to one month. Allow to defrost in refrigerator overnight before using.)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out.
Prepare the tart: Place the butter in the bottom of a large ovenproof skillet with sloping sides. Sprinkle the 1 cup sugar evenly over the butter and pan. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts, the sugar is partially dissolved, and the mixture is bubbling, about 2 minutes.
Arrange the pears closely together, cut sides up, in a circular pattern in the skillet. Cut the remaining pears into quarters to fill in the spaces. Mix the 1 tablespoon sugar, cardamom and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until a thick, amber-colored syrup forms, turning the skillet to ensure even cooking, about 25 minutes.
While the fruit is cooking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the pastry on parchment paper to a round shape slightly larger than the skillet. Slide the paper onto a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator until the syrup is ready.
When the syrup has colored, remove the skillet from the heat and lay the pastry over the fruit. Cut 3-4 slits in the pastry and brush it with the egg glaze. (Work quickly, because it will begin to melt from the heat of the pan.)
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the tart is deep golden brown and firm when tapped, 25-30 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a rack 1 minute.
Cut around edge of skillet with a metal spatula to loosen the pastry. Place a large plate over the skillet and, using oven mitts, invert the tart onto the plate. If any of the pears or caramel are stuck in the pan, remove with the spatula and spread on top of tart. Cool the tart slightly before serving; serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.