I had an embarrassing moment recently when a friend of mine told me she had been searching through our blog looking for desserts and that she was disappointed to see we have but a paltry number of sweet recipes. Now, I'm admittedly someone who lost her sweet tooth somewhere around 2002 after a stint working at City Bakery over the summer. I can't say whether it was a direct result of all the frozen hot chocolate and butter-drenched cookies, but somehow I found myself, previously unable to reach a satisfying finish to a meal without at least a couple of bites of cake/cookies/tart/ice cream, suddenly with only a passing interest in dessert. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a bite of dark chocolate, or a good milkshake, and I've recently rediscovered the pleasure of an early morning cheese danish, thanks to our mother, but it's just not where my cooking or eating passion lies. I'd much rather spend my time standing over a steaming pot on the stove, tasting and seasoning, sauteeing and deglazing, tasting, and tasting again, than coaxing egg whites to stiffen into peaks just so, checking that a toothpick yields perfectly moist crumbs, and measuring, measuring, forever measuring.
But the importance of dessert cannot be overlooked. When planning a dinner like the one I had recently, a belated birthday meal for the Mother on a semi-historic occasion in which she met, for the first time, the soon-to-be-father-in-law who was visiting from Florida, whether or not one will make a dessert is not really a question up for debate. It just wouldn't be dinner without it.
And so it is with great pleasure that I see your chocolate chip soda bread (can you please fedex me some?), and raise you one Tarte Tatin, a dessert for all those non-bakers out there (and those combing our archives in vain for something sweet). There's barely any measuring, no dough making, no electric beaters to clean, and since you're baking in a cast-iron skillet, you might even be able to trick yourself into thinking you're throwing together some hash-browns. Now that's my kind of dessert.
courtesy of Gourmet, RIP
frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
7 to 9 Gala apples (3 to 4 pounds), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
Special equipment: a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Defrost pastry so you can work with it. Roll pastry sheet into a 101/2-inch square on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin. Brush off excess flour and cut out a 10-inch round with a sharp knife, using a plate as a guide. Transfer round to a baking sheet and chill.
Spread butter thickly on bottom and side of skillet and pour sugar evenly over bottom. Arrange as many apples as will fit vertically on sugar, packing them tightly in concentric circles. Apples will stick up above rim of skillet. (for a visual on how to do this, check out this tip)
Cook apples over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, 18 to 25 minutes. (Don't worry if juices color unevenly.)
Put skillet in middle of oven over a piece of foil to catch any drips. Bake 20 minutes (apples will settle slightly), then remove from oven and lay pastry round over apples.
Bake tart until pastry is browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer skillet to a rack and cool at least 10 minutes.
Before serving, invert a platter with lip over skillet and, using potholders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto platter. Be careful not to lose any of the caramel--some of mine poured out when I did the flip. Replace any apples that stick to skillet. (Don't worry if there are black spots; they won't affect the flavor of the tart.)
Brush any excess caramel from skillet over apples. Serve with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.
Cooks' note: ·Tart can cool in skillet up to 30 minutes. It can also stand, uncovered, up to 5 hours, then be heated over moderately low heat 1 to 2 minutes to loosen caramel. Shake skillet gently to loosen tart before inverting.