The Perfect Fall Dessert

Susan Spungen reveals her secrets to the best apple tarte Tatin.
Apple Dessert

Photographs by Susan Spungen

Classic Apple Tarte Tatin

Both easy and elegant, apple tarte Tatin is a tasteful autumn treat. While working on the film Julie & Julia, I made this dessert over and over again, perfecting the technique so that it looked exactly the same every time, which is essential on a movie set. 

What You Need
7         large Gala apples (or other firm, crisp, seasonal apples that will hold their shape while cooking)
1⁄2       lemon
4 T     cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3⁄4 c. granulated sugar
1⁄2      vanilla bean, split and scraped
1         12″ round chilled pie dough or puff pastry Crème fraîche, for serving


1.  Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel the apples and cut them into thirds off the core as best you can, then cut out any remaining seeds. Squeeze the lemon half over the pieces and set aside.

2.   Have the butter ready by the stove. Add the sugar to a large (12″) heavy-bottomed skillet and place over medium-high heat. Cook, without stirring, until sugar begins to liquefy, 2 to 4 minutes. When the sugar melts further and begins to brown, reduce heat slightly and give it one good stir with a whisk to get rid of any clumps, then don’t stir again. Swirl the pan gently and carefully until the sugar is dark amber, 5 to 8 minutes total. Remove from heat, then carefully add the butter pieces and swirl till they melt.

3.  Return skillet to the burner, add the apples and scraped vanilla seeds and pod, and cook over medium-high heat, gently stirring and turning the apples until they soften and start to turn translucent at the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Discard vanilla pod.

4.  Using tongs, transfer apples rounded side down to a smaller (10″) pan with an oven-proof handle. (You can also use a 10″ pie plate at this point.) Arrange the apple pieces in a concentric circle around the outside, overlapping them quite a bit and purposely crowding them. Arrange remaining pieces in the center of the ring.

5.  Top the apples with the pastry round, trim (if necessary) so that you have about 1″ overhang all the way around, and tuck in the edges. Cut a few vents in the center and place pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until pastry is nicely browned and apples are bubbling around the edges.

6.  Run a butter knife around the perimeter to loosen the tarte and let it cool at least 10 minutes, and preferably 30 minutes, until you are ready to serve. (If it has cooled completely, either return it to the oven to warm it up or place it over low heat for a few minutes to melt the caramel again.) To invert, top with a serving plate, grasp the pan and plate tightly together as a unit (wearing oven mitts if the pan is still warm), and flip. Remove the pan. If any apples stick to the pan, just reposition them where they should go on the tarte.

7.  Serve warm with crème fraîche, if desired. Serves 8.


The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Harvest Swoon.