Treat Time – Cranberries, La Tarte Tatin & the Smells of Autumn

Fall is my favorite season, when autumn winds blow away the sticky heat of summer, and hardwood trees show off the rich, abundant colors they’ve been hiding. It’s a season with scents that rival the showier floral springtime. Smells of apples, cinnamon, pumpkin, damp wood – these are the aromas I anticipate as the days shorten and the birds start their migrations. We change our eating habits with the change of weather.

Open jar of cranberry sauce on counter
Cranberry sauce

Yesterday I made my first jar of cranberry sauce for the season, and today I’ll be making applesauce with some leftover apples that are past their prime for crisp eating out of hand. These foods take very little skill or time to prepare, and they last quite a while if refrigerated.

To make cranberry sauce, simply rinse a bag of fresh cranberries, drain and place in a saucepan with 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, a stick of cinnamon and the zest of one orange or tangerine.

Bring to a rapid boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes until it’s thick and quite jammy. Remove the cinnamon stick before spooning the sauce into a jar for storage.

You’ll naturally want to serve this as a side to roast poultry, but you can also use it as you would any fruit jam — on toast, in desserts. The cooking fruit fills your home with a gorgeous aroma, made more complex by the aromatics added to the cranberries.

La Tarte Tatin, on the other hand, creates its aroma from the transformation of its ingredients while cooking. As the apples caramelize they create a heady scent that’s a treat all its own.

La Tarte Tatin – caramelized apple pastry

If you’re not confident with making pastry, just know that this is a very forgiving recipe since the pastry is just popped on top of the apples before baking – no fluting edges or making intricate lattice tops required. The recipe also doesn’t require a pie pan; any oven-ready skillet will do, but cast iron is best.

La Tarte Tatin Recipe

I use the recipe from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, a classic go-to cookbook for me.

The best apples to use for this recipe are Golden Delicious, however you can substitute any apple that retains its firmness when baked. Apples that go mushy are best used in applesauce if not eaten out of hand.

The tart filling uses only 4 ingredients (apples, lemon, sugar, butter), but the complexity and richness of the flavors of the finished tart will blow your mind.

Note on pan size: Since there are only 2 of us in the house these days, I bake this in a smaller cast iron skillet than called for in the recipe. The picture is of a 6″ tart; so expect it to be larger if you make it per the recipe below. Contact me or comment below if you’d like to know how to scale down the ingredients for the smaller tart.


  • 5 to 6 Golden Delicious apples
  • Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup and 1/2 cup sugar (used separately)
  • 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • Single crust butter pastry dough (see below)

Butter Pastry Ingredients

  • 1 cup (125 grams) flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (113 grams or 4 ounces) very cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Preparation – at least one hour before cooking

First step is to prepare the pastry and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or 2 hours (can be made a day in advance). In a food processor, mix the flour, salt and sugar together. Add the butter cubes and pulse about 6 times until the butter is distributed but you can still see large chunks. Pour in the ice water, and mix until it comes into a rough ball shape. Turn it out onto your countertop, and knead it just a few times to bring it together into a single mass. Pat the dough out into a circular disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate before using. It’s important to rest the dough to retard the gluten formation (which will make the pastry tough), and to thoroughly chill it.

Next, prepare the apples: Quarter, core and peel the apples. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise, to yield 8 slices per apple. Place the apple slices in a bowl; sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to mix. Add ½ cup sugar and toss to coat slices in sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes. This process removes some of the excess juice from the apples.

Stove-top cooking

Place an 8-in cast iron skillet over moderately high heat with the butter. When melted, blend in the remaining 1 Cup sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula for several minutes. The mixture will start to caramelize. When the mixture turns a deep caramel brown, you’re ready to add the drained apples.

Drain the apples; take the skillet off the heat. Carefully place the apple slices individually around the outer circle of the pan. Continue in concentric rings until the entire pan is filled in with an orderly arrangement of apple slices. Dump the remaining slices on top of the arranged apple slices.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees; place a cooking sheet on a middle rack (in case the apple juices run over during cooking). Place the skillet back on the heat, and cook for about 10 minutes while the apple slices soften. Gently press the slices down, and use a baster to draw up the butter/caramel and cloak the slices with caramel as they cook. This will start slowly, with little to draw up, but as the apples lose their juices it will become much easier. When the apples start to soften, cover the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes more, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Prepare the pastry top

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator. Dust a clean work surface (countertop) with flour, and place the round of dough on the floured surface. Roll out the dough so that it’s about 1-inch larger than the circumference of your pan.Quickly fold the pastry circle in half and half again, line it up with the top of the pan (tip of the pastry quarter in the middle of the apples), and unfold the pastry, placing it on top of your apple caramel. Tuck edges in; you’re not aiming to flute the edges or anything, just press the edges into the pan using a spatula.(Work quickly since pastry resting on the hot skillet edge will start softening/melting. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot pan.) Using a small sharp knife, cut 4 slits in the top of the pastry (North-South-East-West).

Bake in oven

Using a glove to protect your hands, transfer the skillet into the preheated oven.

Bake about 20 minutes at 425 degrees. A few minutes prior to the end of the cooking time, get out a plate large enough for the tart; place it on your countertop. You’ll be working very quickly once the pan comes out of the oven.The crust should be a nice golden brown. Remove from oven. Using gloves as you handle the hot skillet, tilt the skillet slightly. If juices run freely (very liquid), you can place it over medium high heat for just a few minutes to reduce the juices. There should be a syrup at this point (it shouldn’t be dry or you won’t be able to get it out of the pan). Place the plate over the pan (the crust will end up on the bottom of the tart after you’ve inverted it). In one quick motion, turn the plate-and-skillet so that the skillet is now on the top. Place the plate on the countertop. Slowly lift the skillet up. If a few apple slices stick to the pan, use a utensil to replace them gently in the tart. Note: the caramel may run a bit at this point, but as it cools it will firm up a bit. Serve either warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or crème fraiche.

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