At my fruit and veg shop last week I noticed that they had Clochard apples for sale, a variety though old and long grown in the west of France is rarely seen.
I was first introduced to the Clochard by the chef of the Auberge du Val de Vienne restaurant at Sazilly near Chinon. An excellent restaurant that offers for the quality and creativity of the cuisine an unbelievably good value Menu du Marche for 18 euros. Julie and I tend to call in when we are having a buying trip for Chinon wine and we would go more often if the auberge was nearer to us or if we could afford more wine.
On one visit we both had an unbelievably good Tarte Tatin that was filled with a lovely flavoured and textured apple which had been cooked in a manner that gave the dessert a lovely chewy toffee apple edge. I was so impressed that I cornered the chef Jean-Marie complimented him and asked him how he had cooked it. Fortunately Jean-Marie was friendly and quite happy to offer his secrets. He told me that the trick is not to add butter when making the caramel just to simply cook the sugar with the apples on the stove top until a good caramel has been formed.
The second trick is to use the correct variety of apple – a Clochard which according to Jean-Marie meant bell because of its shape.
I stored the information in my head in the space marked things I will get round to doing, seeing the Clochards in the grocers gave the connective spark that I needed, a kilo straight in to the basket, Tarte Tatin a la Auberge du Val de Vienne ce soir.
Tarte Tatin was first created allegedly by accident at the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, at the turn of the century. The Conseil General d’Indre et Loire (A county council in English terms) claims that the recipe is a Tourangelle one, but I’m not sure that people from the Solonge would agree. In any event Lamotte-Beuvron is only about 30k from where I live, the dish is local to me.
The main account of the tarte’s origins is that Stéphanie Tatin one of the two sisters who owned the hotel, was overworked one day. She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert.
Most people with an interest in cooking have cooked a Tarte Tatin at some point, it’s delicious and simple. If you have not cooked it you certainly should, there’s plenty of conventional recipes on the web, theres a decent one here by Heston Blumenthal no less.
For Tarte Tatin a la Auberge du Val de Vienne you need;
- 1 packet of good quality puff pastry
- 1 kilo of firm dessert apples, Clochards if you can get them, Reinettes or other old variety
- 100g sugar
- Creme Fraiche for serving
That’s it only 3 core ingredients it doesn’t get any simpler or frugal than that!
Peel, core and cut the apples into quarters. Add the sugar to a heavy based pan such as a frying pan then add the apples so that they are evenly spread across the pan.
Heat the apples and sugar on a moderate flame until the sugar caramelises to a medium brown.
Roll out the pastry .
If your pan is oven safe simply cover the apple and caramelised sugar mixture with the pastry tucking the edges of the pastry into the edges of the pan. If your pan is not oven safe swiftly decant the apple and caramelised sugar mixture in to an oven dish then add the pastry as described above.
Pop the tatin into a moderate oven 190c or gas mark 5 for about 30 minutes, the pastry should be golden.
Once out of the oven you need to turn the tatin out, cover the top of the pan or dish with an upturned plate large enough to hold the tart. Quickly, but carefully, tip the pan upside down and shake gently if necessary.
Serve while still warm, if needs creme fraiche or something similar.
There it is, looks good? Jean-Marie’s was deeper coloured than mine and to be honest a bit more toffeey but mine was very good against his excellent, something to practice.
As an aside I looked up the Clochard apple to write this post, the Clochard is related to the Reinette apple, hence it’s fine flavour. But Clochard means tramp not bell, no one knows why it’s a ‘tramp’ apple or probably cares.