Have you ever come across a recipe and felt compelled to make it straightaway? Or, that perhaps if you didn’t, something would be missing from your life? This is the result of one of those moments.
A few days ago, my mom sent a photo of a genius hybrid she’d been inspired to make from an Ina Garten recipe. Tarte tatin cake: all the goodness of the classic dark toffee apples, but topped with our family’s favorite cake batter instead of puff pastry. Baked in a pie dish, the result is practically three desserts in one: tarte tatin topping, olive oil cake that soaks up the dark toffee, and the crisp, almost biscuit-like edges that spill into the pie plate’s outer curves.
My third trimester of pregnancy has summoned a rampant desire to bake. The morning after mom and I chatted, I was at the store buying granny smith apples. By that afternoon, we had our first slice. The next day, it was gone.
For those who prefer a neater, straight-sided cake, swap the pie dish for a straight-sided, round baking dish. This will also yield a softer cake all around, rather than the crispy bits you’ll get if using the pie tin. Personally, I’ll keep making this in the tin just for the contrast of textures.
I also prefer a dark toffee; the burnt sugar adds another layer of flavor. It’s how my Teta used to make it for her famous crème caramel, and it pairs beautifully with the lemon zest in the cake. Don’t be afraid to let the toffee get to a rich amber – just keep an eye on it as darkens quickly. If you prefer a lighter flavor, take it off the heat and pour over the apples as soon as it’s reached your peak happy place. Oh, and a few capfuls of brandy in there never hurt anyone either.
- 2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/2"-3/4" wedges
- 1 cup white sugar (Trust me, use white. Raw sugar does not yield the same result!)
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 capfuls of Calvados (apple brandy) or regular brandy
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup light olive oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 3/4 cup raw sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Generously butter a 9" pie plate. (Really, be generous! The butter helps keep the toffee apples from sticking to the pan when inverting).
Peel, core and slice the apples. Half them and slice into 1/2"-3/4" wedges. Arrange them in the buttered pie plate.
Make the toffee: combine the sugar, water and brandy in a small pot over medium-high heat and allow it to come to a boil, undisturbed. Don't stir the toffee - swirl the pot instead, to prevent crystals forming. After a few minutes it will start to darken in color. Keep a close eye on it, swirling regularly as it boils. When the toffee reaches your desired darkness, take it off the heat and pour it immediately (carefully - it's blistering hot) over the apples.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour the cake batter over the toffee and apples. The pie plate will be nice and full.
Bake for 25 minutes and check for doneness with a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake. Continue cooking in 5 minute increments as needed, until the skewer comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife or skewer, then carefully invert the cake onto a serving dish. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Remember: toffee is extremely hot and should never be touched with bare hands. Swirl the toffee gently in the pot instead of stirring, and when ready, pour it gently over the apples to avoid spilling. The toffee will sizzle as it hits the cold apples.