This Dinner Will Get You Laid – Tarte Tatin and a brush with the New York City Fire Brigade

One thing that my London friends want to know about life in New York; is it true that people use their ovens for storage?

Recipe Ilustration for How to cook Tart TatinThe answer is a resounding yes. The picture at the top of this blog is my kitchen – all of it. You’ll note the total absence of work-surface space and a general lack of storage. I keep plates in my oven, piling them up on the floor when I want to use said oven for cooking.

I have friends with longer term storage in mind. Laura, who always orders in and never cooks, keeps shoe boxes in hers and uses her fridge to store her makeup – which is actually a really smart idea, she tells me, because it keeps things like toner and eye makeup remover at the optimum temperature. And she should know. She works for a magazine.

Roommates Tom and another Laura, more domesticated, collect 1950’s furniture from flea markets, burn scented candles in their bathroom, invited Jon and I for dinner. We arrived a little early in time to find them peeling the plastic lining from the inside of their oven before putting the lasagna in. They’d been living there for three years.

Which is why I was saddened but not surprised to discover that Simon, in an effort to impress girlfriend of six months Abigail, used his oven for possibly the very first time this week.

He’d decided to cook her favorite dessert, tarte tatin. He emailed me for instructions, I sent him a recipe, then we had a long instant message discussion about pre-heating, the exact color of the caramel, whether or not to peel the apples, how thin the puff pastry should be and so forth.  This morning I received an email with the following heading;


The recipe had said nothing about taking an old pair of trainers out of the oven first.

Abigail arrived to an apartment that smelled slightly of singed nylon and melted plastic to be greeted by Simon with a brilliant back up plan; a loaf of French bread, a large lump of double cream brie and the remainder of the apples.

A nicer early Autumn dinner I cannot think of.

She was impressed, as who wouldn’t have been, so, no thanks to me, the evening was not a dead loss.

The moral of this story? You could head out to the shops to collect the ingredients for an urban picnic, or you go with the original plan and bake a burnished caramel apple tart, or, better still, eat both – just check your oven is empty first.

Tarte Tatin (serves 6 – or 2 if that’s all you’re eating for dinner)

Recipe illustration for how to cook tart tatin1 block of frozen puff pastry
8 tart eating apples
¾ stick of butter (about 3 oz)
1 cup (7 oz ish) of sugar
Oven proof pan (I have a cast iron skillet, though before I was given that as a wedding present, I used a ceramic pie dish and sautéed the apples in a frying pan first)

  • Defrost the pastry then roll it out to a bit bigger than the size of your dish / pan
  • Preheat the oven to 450 being sure to remove any stored items first
  • Peel and core the apples (it’s worth using a corer if you have one because it looks neater)
  • Melt the butter and sugar in a pan, then add the apple halves – they should fit tightly in the pan. If they don’t, add more.
  • Cook slowly on a low heat until the sugar caramelizes – about 20 mins
  • Turn all the apples so that they all face the same way – or arrange them into the dish that you’re going to put in the oven
  • Top with the pastry, tucking it in under the apples as much as you can without burning your fingers
  • Bake for  20 minutes then allow to cool for five minutes
  • Put a serving plate on top of the dish and turn it quickly upside down
  • The pastry should now be on the bottom and the apples in all their caramelized glory, on the top.
  • Serve with vanilla ice cream or cream

I sometimes make individual ones for people in ceramic pots that I bought on holiday in France – I think they’re called gratin dishes. In which case, I cut the apples into chunks rather than halves so everyone gets more apple.

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