How to Make a Perfect Tarte Tatin

I was bombarded with freshly picked, juicy, sweet and tart apples from Big Bossman’s garden today. My first reflex was to dodge the attack and jump under the kitchen table to resist the change of season, but that didn’t make the apples go away. Eventually my rumbling stomach forced me out of hiding and i had to face the mountain of apples. What French chefs do when given an apple? Tarte Tatin, of course…. Duh!

This is your guide to a perfect tarte tatin my friends, so easy – a caveman can do it (and that’s no reference to my hairy legs). In fact, I am so confident in this recipe that I’m about to do something I’ve never done before. For the first time in the history of this blog I’m giving you the zen personal guarantee: if your attempt at making Tarte Tatin fails after following the instructions given on this post and you can provide the proof, I will find some creative way to humiliate myself on this blog. Believe me, that’s the last thing I want to do. I’m crossing my fingers that nobody screws-up on me, but you wouldn’t do that to me in a malicious way.. err… would you!? Read until the end of this post for great wine recommendations by Kirstin from Vin de la Table.

Tarte Tatin

(serves 6)

3/4 cup sugar
6 ounces butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 medium-size apples (your favorite baking kind)
1 sheet high-quality frozen puff pastry (Dufour..)

Place the sugar in a 9-inch skillet (2 inch-deep) and put the butter in long thin slices over the top. Turn the heat on to medium-high and cook until the caramel turns a dark amber color. Remove from heat, add the vanilla and whisk to emulsify preferably without burning your fingers. The caramel should look smooth and shiny.

The secret to a beautiful tarte tatin is in packing an outrageous amount of apple wedges in the pan lined with caramel. Tarte Tatin is just a fancy name for a caramelized upside-down apple tart after all. After looking at the picture above you might be thinking ‘zen went nuts on the apple!’. Well, it that’s what it takes… You have to take into consideration that apples shrink.. the same way your clothes will look like they have shrunk after you eat a few of these. It’s not your fault by the way, it’s the clothes…

The pastry should be the same diameter as the tart pan you’re using. Making puff pastry from scratch is fun but high quality brands like Dufour are now widely available frozen and save a lot of time. Try making your own when you feel adventurous but don’t forget to stab.

I then placed the tart pans lined with caramel and apples in a 375″F oven for an hour. Now in a perfect world i would be equipped with nonstick tart pans that are 1 1/2 inch deep and 4 inches wide. They would create the perfect environment for self-basting and none of the delicious bubbly caramel would go over the sides. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world and my tart pans are very much like Mayor Bloomberg, a little bit short. I was still determined to make perfect tarte tatin so i basted the apples like a turkey with the overflowing caramel. Don’t these apples look happy?

This step takes the precision and dexterity of a surgeon. Okay, not really. Pick up a stabbed round of puff pastry and place it on top of the caramelized apples. Bake for another 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and after 5 minutes invert onto a plate while holding your breath. Be careful as hot caramel might be dripping from the sides of the pan during the operation. This blog is not insured, just so you know!

A note on wine: I asked the talented Kirstin over at in Oakland California what to drink with this classic dessert, she quickly replied and suggested two wines that i thought were brilliant choices. The first is a Clos Lapeyre, a southwestern French dessert wine from the Jurancon region, made from Petit Manseng. The second is called Clos Uroulat from the same region. She noted that sweet wines from these region have a spicy vanilla, tropical character that love pastry but tend not to overpower the fruit. She also suggested to make a reduction sauce from the bottle’s remnants to be poured over any remaining vanilla ice cream the next day. Damn, she’s good!

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  • Manggy

    My, it does look perfect! Confession: I’ve never had tarte tatin before. I think it’s time to remedy that! Though most other recipes I’ve seen call for a large sheet of pastry to be tucked beside the apples. But… I don’t like eating a lot of pastry. So Zenman wins! If you still have apples left, you could make tart aux pommes, that labor-intensive thinly sliced (and meticulously arranged) apples with frangipane, if you’re not yet sick of tarts, haha :)

  • Elle

    Zen, once again you leave me with my stomach rumbling and my mouth watering. Nice mental image, right? hahaha! These are gorgeous! And I’m thrilled about the season change–it’s the most beautiful time of the year in our part of the country. And them comes the SNOW! Can’t wait for that! I know, I’m a freak. 😉

  • Jason Sandeman

    Nice pictures. I must say that the tart recipe looks very simple, even this chef will give it a try. Unfortunately, I do not think that I can mess it up. Sorry about the missed opportunity to watch you do something crazy.

    I just want to note that usually you are using tart apples in the recipe, right? What brand are you using? I just got wind of some courtland coming into season here, so I might try it out.

  • We Are Never Full

    really great post. fabulous looking dessert – i’m no caveman, and i’m still scared i’d f this up.can’t you just make me one????

  • Peter M

    It’s beautiful, right down to the pretty specs of vanilla in the ice cream.

  • Gloria (Canela)

    I love Tarte Tatin Zen chef I will try your recipe, look awesome!! so nice!! may you send me a piece please!!! (I dream with a man cook to me)LOL xGloria

  • My Sweet & Saucy

    I don’t think you are going to get any complaints with this one…it looks utterly delicious and easy!

  • FeelingFlirty

    I have tried tarte tatin and made a big mess of it. I didn’t have a tarte tatin pan so I used a springform pan and the caramel leaked out and it was a god awful mess.

    What was left tasted really good so I ate it all by myself.

    I’m going to follow your directions to the letter!

  • Cynthia

    Generally, I don’t like sweet stuff and I’m not big on desserts but there’s something about cooked apples that makes me crave them and this tarte tatin is one of those dishes.

  • Astra Libris

    I just discovered your blog, and I’m so glad I did! Your witty comments and beautiful dishes are terrific! I am looking forward to fixing your absolutely gorgeous Tarte Tatin very soon…

  • Colloquial Cook

    Il te faut à tout prix un Zen Personal Guarantee Stamp! Je suis soufflée par tes tatins! Et comme pour la tour Eiffel thon/avocat, la construction en hauteur a bien plus d’intérêt d’un point de vue visuel qu’un truc tout raplala. Je t’imagine très bien à genoux devant ton four à gratter le caramel sur ta plaque pour dorer les pommes 😀

  • Clumbsy Cookie

    All I want to do is scream: Service! Service!!!! Ice-cream is melting, service!!!!
    No, I’m not traumatized by the restaurant working life…
    Zen those look delicious, I love how tall and “caramelly” you left the apples!

  • Chicopea

    mmm love apple desserts. although u don’t know me yet zen, there will be a way for a slip-up somewhere. thx for the cool blog recommendation. so were u stabbing the bossman with the puff pastry =P

  • Tartelette

    That’s how I did them at the restaurant and I had to give one to the dishwasher so he would wash the caramel! They look gorgeous!
    If my grandma were still alive she would yell “Sacrilege! La tatin c’est a la pate brisee”…Yes, we are from “that” other group, although of I have homemade puff pastry, that’s what I’ll use.

  • Norm Schoen

    What a beautiful presentation

  • Norm Schoen

    You could also pair this with either a Sauterne or Sauterne style wine from Monbazilliac

  • doggybloggy

    I totally screwed this up so now I want the floor show…hahaha….just kidding

  • T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types

    Who could dread the change of season if it is welcomed with Tarte Tatin. I LOVE the individual tarts – absolutely beautiful. Now, I have to get my hands on some apples …

  • Adam

    Zen, that dessert rocks! If that tarte walked into a club, it would go right to the front of the line, and guys would buy it drinks :)

    I love your guarantee… the last cool dude I know who did that was Joe Namath

  • Cakebrain

    I love tarte tatin! I’ve never tried making it for fear of a flop, but since you’ve given a guarantee, I’m going for it! The vanilla bean ice cream just puts is so over the top! mmmm. Gorgeous pics!

  • Nate-n-Annie

    I’m crying too about the end of summer. I’m just having a blast with all the peaches and pluots and now we’re seeing grapes and apples. Ack! Can I get a few more days of hot weather please?

    Love the recipe. Since it comes with a guarantee, I guess I will have to try it!

  • Claude-Olivier

    vu la couleur, cela doit etre une pure tuerie! j’en fait aussi de temps en temps et j’adore ça ! Mais pas assi belles que les tiennes!

  • Dhanggit

    Holy cow! I have never seen tatin this pretty in my life! Even the one’s from great patisseries here in Aix nothing much these beauties! And topping it with ice-cream triples the fun! ok give me some more time to appreciate all these work of art from you :-)

  • The Caked Crusader

    ooh what a lovely tarte tatin. I’m yet to make one and am glad, as your recipe looks the nicest! I like the way you get height with the apples – sometimes they can look a bit flat.

  • Anali

    This looks so good. I’ve never had a Tarte Tatin, but I will have to try to make one. And I love that you’ve once again taken things up a notch with the wine pairings by Kirstin. Great idea! And it should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of dessert wines. ; )

  • Alex Rushmer

    One of the finest desserts in the world. Good Job

  • Zoe Francois

    They really are perfect! It has me longing for apple season to start. It is just a matter of days until we can go picking.

  • mikky

    wow… i just had to say it… looks so perfect… i bet it tasted great too… :)

  • redmenace

    Looks gorgeous! Hope I don’t mess this up. Wouldn’t want to humiliate you!

  • Leonor de Sousa Bastos

    Your tatin looks so perfect and elegant…

    It must be delicious!!

    Loved it!

  • Heather

    Oh, dang – I saw this tarte tatin on Tastespotting and made a note to check it out. And it was yours all along! You even turned my jaded head with this. Well done.

  • Mia King

    Chef, this looks fabulous. Will definitely have to give it a go …

  • dp

    WOW! These look amazing! I must try this and I even have 4″ pans that are about 1.5″ high!

  • Pyondi

    Found this through TasteSpotting. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

  • Darius T. Williams

    Yup – I’ve never had this either…but I’d damn sure eat it up! This looks really good.


  • taste memory

    oh i think i would love to make a tarte tatin ~ very nice zen chef!

  • Chicken And Waffles

    Dude, you had me at tart.

    Oh, wait. That would be me. Tart is just a nice way of saying it.

  • Colloquial Cook

    Just for your information, sadly you were right. There is not such thing as a perfect world, they DON’T have 10*4cm non stick pans at Dehillerin. I was there to replace my piping bag which burst at the seams (a little too much energy perhaps??) and had a look around. Now if they don’t have it at Dehillerin, it’s probably that it doesn’t exist. *sigh* You need to have them custom made darling.

  • BaL

    Hi! :)

    I found your blog, and this marvellous recipe (and photos) on Tom’s site.

    I’m simply speechless 😀 Those look great!

    Thanks for sharing…

    Cheers from Istanbul!

  • michelle @ TNS

    i think the best way to make it is to have *you* make it and bring it to my house. perfect every time!

  • angie

    I made my own feuilletage yesterday, will use some of it to make your tatin!:) Although unfortunately, no Big Bossman’s orchard to pick delicious apples from…;)
    p.s. I added yr blog to my favorites!

  • Olga

    I had no clue what Tarte Tartin was. This looks very interesting. Reminds me of picking apples when I was a little girl.

  • peter

    Just in time for apple-picking season. I always make it with good old pie crus in an iron skillet, but I might just have to try this out…

  • cook eat FRET

    one of my fave desserts of all time
    i’ll be making this one…

  • Gil

    Chef, this is definitely the most perfect looking Tatin on the web,and this after long search..
    However – I completely failed in my attemt:
    1. Butter seperated and created one toffee like thick substance and liquid butter
    2. Apples were to pale and mushy.
    Can you please ofer some advice?