There are a lot of great recipe genesis stories. Everybody seems to know the old tale of the Earl of Sandwich, so obsessed with his cribbage game that he ordered his servants to bring him a conveniently portable meal. And thus was born the now ubiquitous sandwich. There is also the fondly recounted story of the chocolate chip cookie. Apparently some intrepid cook in Massachusetts lazily threw chocolate bits into traditional cookie batter hoping the chocolate would evenly melt to create a chocolate cookie. The bits remained in tact and now we have the beloved chocolate chip cookie. Yet another story of accidental invention in the kitchen is my personal favorite, the Tarte Tatin!
As the old story goes, after a long day of restaurant work, French sisters Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin attempted to make an apple galette of sorts. In the process they burned the apples they had cooked in sugar. As if that were not enough, they apparently forgot to add batter or crust or whatever to their “cake.” In efforts to rectify this seemingly hopeless situation, the sisters rolled out some pastry, placed it atop the burnt apples, baked, inverted and then actually served this hair-brained dessert to PAYING customers.
When I first heard the story of the Tatin sisters, I thought now those are two ladies I’d like to meet. I mean, they fucked up so royally in the kitchen and then passed off burnt fruit as “caramelized” and a nearly crustless cake as a “gâteaux renversé.” These ladies put Frank Luntz to shame. I can almost imagine Stéphanie telling her sister, “Oh fuck it Caroline, just throw some crust on the damn thing and turn it upside down. The customers will never know!” And in fact those customers loved it.
Perhaps even more than the tart itself, I love the wonderfully batty, possibly nefarious Tatin sisters. Some say the story of this tart has been wildly exaggerated over time, and that’s fine. I will, however always uphold Stéphanie and Caroline as the best possible example of badass ding-battery in the kitchen that I know. I love their story because my time in the kitchen can be in equal parts exacting and complacent. More tellingly, it is often my moments of kitchen madness that produce the most unexpectedly delicious results.
There are days that I will laboriously hand roll pasta and form into chirpy little tortellini. There are still other days that I will melt old cheese in a saucepan, sprinkle it with pancetta, call it “fonduta,” and serve to Giuseppe with nothing more than a shit eating grin and a flourish of the hand. Often the haphazardly thrown together meals are more delicious than their overwrought, overworked counterparts.
There is something about producing these accidental, nearly disastrous and ultimately delicious meals that makes me feel as if I have gotten away with murder. These dishes are born out of hunger and hurry and often feel more primal than say, duck al ‘orange or aspic or whatever it may be. I love cooking, but I also love going to the beach or watching YouTube reruns of Broad City or singing show tunes in the shower.
And thusly, there are just some days I do not feel like being in the kitchen. Those are usually the days we eat things like carbonara, another dish of deliciously murky provenance or piadina, which is basically just an Italian quesadilla stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.
Ironically, I spend so much time talking about food, writing about food and preparing food that I end up becoming quite bored by food in general. But not eating is not an option. So I cook when I have to, even when I don’t want to. On the days when things turn out disastrously, I just remember the Tatin sisters. It’s just food. All hope is not lost. And if you ever burn something, whether it be sweet or savory, just call it caramelized and cover it with a carbohydrate. You wouldn’t believe the shit people it when served. And if you’re lucky they might actually like it!
Plum Tarte Tatin
Serves 6 as dolce
For Pâte brisée
- 2 cups flour
- 2 sticks chilled, unsalted butter, cut tinto ¼” cubes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 tablespoons ice water
For the Tate
- 7 unsalted tablespoons butter
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds ripe plums, pitter and cut in half
- Pulse the flour, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor until pea-sized balls form
- Add ice water and pulse until large unified ball forms
- Place dough ball on floured work surface and pat into a flat disk
- Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
- Melt remaining butter in 12” cast iron skillet
- When butteri is melted (but not brown), remove from heat
- Add sugar, salt and plums cut side down
- Return to medium heat and carmelize plums for 7 minutes. Do not touch/ stir the plums—they need to literally stew in their own juices!
- While plums are carmelizing, roll out crust to 1/8” thick
- Off heat, place crust atop plums, evenly trimming overhang
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown
- Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes
- Once cooled, invert over plate and whack to set free
- Serve warm with Crème fraîche or Mascarpone