Tarte Tatin – An Easy French Classic

According to my old 1984 edition of Larousse Gastronomique (given as a wedding present as a young Scot about to embark in a French kitchen), the Tarte Tatin dessert was first served in Paris at Maxim’s giving a bow to its creators, the famous Tatin sisters.

Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin came up with this irresistible dessert quite by accident at the end of the 19th century while running their hotel/restaurant in the French Sologne region, south of Paris.  The story goes (I have two conflicting ones from different cookbooks) that, as the apples were caramelising in sugar and butter in the oven for their tarte solognote, they either realised they’d forgotten the pastry or that they’d burned the apples, so they simply plopped the pastry on top, baked then flipped the tart upside down, and Mon Dieu, look what turned up? From then on, it was served as their speciality until they retired in 1906, although they never called it a Tarte Tatin.

Tarte Tatin a French classic dessert recipe

Newly married, I was totally intimidated by my French Mother-in-Law’s Tarte Tatin. Her dessert looked so sumptuous and grand with its glistening slices of warm caramelised apples sitting on top of a crispy pastry, just oozing with the sticky juices. How did she do it?

Pressing her short and simple recipe in my hand, I was assured it was easy and inrattable; “You can’t go wrong”, she said.
Well I did get it wrong.

For a start, I used apples that didn’t survive the cooking process (Pink Lady) and when I quickly turned the pan upside down for the grand finale de-moulding moment, some of the apples stuck to the bottom and the rest sat there miserably as light, uncaramelised mush. I thought of inventing a new Apple Sauce Tart but somehow it didn’t have quite the same “accident appeal” as that of the elderly Tatin Sisters.

So, lesson learned: use good quality tart apples such as Granny Smith or French Golden Delicious. As a result of a few other little helpful tweaks to add to mother-in-law’s instructions, you can also now be rest assured that what flips out at the end will be much more of a pleasure!

Tarte Tatin French recipe for caramelised apple tart


Serves 4-6

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: About 1 hour

2 tbsp water
120g granulated sugar (plus 2 tbsp)
50g unsalted butter (plus 15g extra)
splash of Calvados (optional)

pinch salt (optional)
5-6 apples (Golden Delicious or Granny Smith)
200g puff pastry (ideally ready-rolled/thawed, if frozen)

For best results, butter a round 25cm deep baking tin, or use a good solid-based ovenproof frying pan

tarte tatin recipe method

1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, stir the water and sugar together and, over a medium heat, leave to bubble and simmer until a light golden brown caramel forms (no need to stir). Stir in the butter (and salt if using) and splash of Calvados until the caramel is smooth and immediately pour into the baking tin.

2. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F (gas 5).  Peel the apples, cut them in half, remove the cores with a sharp knife (or use an apple corer) and cut them again horizontally.

3. Arrange the apples upright in a circle and pack them as tight as you can (they’ll shrink while cooking), filling as much space as possible in the middle.  Cut up any leftover apple and stuff them into the spaces.  Dot with the extra butter (or brush with melted butter) and lightly sprinkle over the 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

4. Remove the apples from the oven to cool slightly as you prepare the pastry.

5. Ideally your puff is ready rolled so there’s no need to do anything. (If the puff pastry is in a block, roll it out to about 2mm thickness and cut out a circle very slightly larger (2-3cm) than the size of the pan you’re using). Place the puff pastry circle on top of the apples, tucking in the sides as far down the edges as you can, as it will neatly hold the apples when turned over at the end. Pierce a few small holes in the pastry to allow any steam to escape – this will prevent the puff pastry from puffing up too much while baking.

6. Bake in the oven for a further 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the apple juices leak around the edges.

7. Leave to cool. Run a sharp knife along the edges just to help release the sticky beauty. To turn out the tart, cover the pan with a large deep plate (to catch the juices) and hold the pan and plate together and flip upside down quickly, pastry side down.

Serve slightly warm either on its own, with a dollop of crème fraîche, or why not some Drambuie ice cream for a Scottish-French Auld Alliance dessert?

Tarte tatin a classic French dessert with apples


18 replies
    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Hi Enrique, I also have a mango tarte tatin recipe. But I wouldn’t adapt this too much using other fruits, as the result can be rather mushy. That’s why apple is a classic! Mango is great though – use that recipe to make a pineapple one too.

  1. David
    David says:

    So simple, yet so elegant. Your apple advice is so important. I made the same mistake when I made one many years ago… It took me a long time to get my nerve up again to try!

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Glad this helped David. It’s so basic, but nobody told me so I learned the hard and mushy way! It’s such an easy dessert and agree, it just takes a bit of nerve and in the end it’s a lot easier than we thought.

  2. Susan
    Susan says:

    I have being making Tarte Tatin for years and have very simple method to make it. I use a Visions brand frying pan ( clear glass)You could use any heavy frying pan with high sides that can go into the oven.
    I put the sugar and butter in the pan on the stovetop and let it caramelize, medium heat. Keep a close watch. so it does not burn I have pre-sliced 3-4 Granny Smith apples into small wedges. When the caramel is starting to turn golden, I remove pan from heat and carefully arrange the slices in a circle starting from the outside. edge This is to make a pretty design when the tarte is inverted on a plate after baking .
    Place pan back on burner so the caramel bubbles between the slices just for a couple of minutes. Turn off stove top and place your choice of pastry on top folding the edges under. Either regular pie crust or puff pastry works well. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes or until crust is lightly golden and you can see the caramel sauce bubbling.. Remove from oven ,letting it cool for a couple of minutes, Run a knife around the edge to make sure there is no sticking on the edges and invert carefully on a plate. Be very careful as caramel will still be very hot.

    I have never had a problem with losing any of apples to the bottom of the pan.


    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Thanks for sharing your version with us Susan and for taking the time to write it all out! I used to make it like this too – my mother-in-law does it like this. As long as we all arrive at the same delicious result! Bon dimanche x

  3. David
    David says:

    Funny, Jill, I was just reading from my 1960s cookbook from Chez Maxim, planning a post about Tarte Tatin! Love the story and, while it may not be true, why let the facts spoil a good story? Your Tatin looks perfect!

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Wow – you’ve got the Maxim cookbook? Now that’s interesting to hear what they say about it. I was even going to phone them then thought I was going mad… So it’s not necessarily true about Maxims?! 🙁 Thanks for the info and for your kind words David.

  4. Jean-Pierre
    Jean-Pierre says:

    Had heard of the history but didn’t know about Maxims Jill. Love this dessert. Make it quite often but never pierced a hole in the pastry. Must try it next time – thanks.

    • Jill Colonna
      Jill Colonna says:

      Well I do wish you a new oven soon Christina. I’m sure there’s an oven fairy out there if you say you have to make a tarte tatin!


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  2. […] For a more classic Tarte Tatin dessert, see recipe here. […]


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