Here is a great and easy recipe for Tarte Tatin, the French version of an apple pie. Tarte Tatin differs from its American cousin in 2 key ways, namely, the apples are caramelized completely and it is baked upside down. For simplicity, I use a puff pastry sheet for the base (or top), but you can use virtually any butter based pie crust dough recipe you like. I will include a butter pastry dough recipe in a later post which would work well here too. The important thing here is the apples. You need a sweet but sturdy apple that will stand up to the caramelization and still retain its shape somewhat. I like to use whatever is in season at the moment anytime I cook and this is no exception. Generally speaking though, you would not want to use a red delicious as they tend to fall apart. Also, nothing too tarte, like a granny smith, since you want it to get gooey sweet, not sour. I tend to go with Empire or pink lady apples, something crisp and sweet. Do not underestimate the amount of apples you will need for this pie, they tend to cook way down, so do not skimp!
The rest is as easy as, well, pie.
1/2 -3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Mix the lemon juice into a large bowl of water. You will use this to soak the apples as you work with them, so they do not brown. Now, peel, core and cut the apples into 8ths, in long slices, and put in the water and lemon juice bath.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain the slices well and add to a large skillet on medium heat. Add about 1/2 a cup of the sugar and 2 tbsp of the butter to the pan and mix to coat. The apples will release some water which will mix with the sugar and create a caramel base for the pie. Keep cooking until the apples are fully cooked through and browning into a gorgeous caramel color. Add the vanilla towards the end and toss to coat all the apple in the caramel. Some of the pieces will break down, which is fine. You want a mix of whole pieces and mush, as the mush will fill in the gaps between the slices when you arrange them in your pie dish.
Liberally butter a 9 inch pie dish. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to the dish and swirl it around until the entire buttered surface is evenly coated in sugar. You can toss the leftover sugar into the pan with the apples.
When the apples are ready, you can artfully arrange the slices that remained whole in whatever pattern you like along the bottom of the pie dish. When the Tarte is finished and inverted, this will be the top. The remaining apples and apple mush can just all be spread on top of the decorative pieces in an even layer.
Roll out your pastry dough until it is slightly larger than the size of your pie dish and place it carefully on top of the apples. trim away any excess with a sharp knife.
The entire recipe to this point can be done as far as 24 hours in advance, and stored in the fridge until dinner time. Bake the pie (starting at room temperature) at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes, until the pie crust is nicely browned. Take the pie out of the oven and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes.
Now comes the scary part. Take your serving dish and turn it upside down to lay on top of the pie. Using oven mitts (remember, the pie dish is super hot, as is the molten caramel inside!) grasp the pie dish and the serving dish together and in one fell swoop, invert! Have no fear. As long as you are holding both dishes securely, you have nothing to worry about. Worst case scenario, a few of the apple pieces stick to the pie dish, and you can pick them off (sing thongs, its hot!) and replace them where they are supposed to go. Even if they all stick (they wont) you can just pile them on top. It will taste just as delicious. Best case and much more likely though, it will come out perfectly!