Autumn is pastry season for me. While I bake year round, and many pastries are considered ‘summer’ dishes, there is something distinctly warming about spending hours in the kitchen on a chilly day, making and rolling dough and baking delicious pies in the oven.
Inspired by the Great British Bake Off and Michel Roux’s recent appearance on Saturday Kitchen ( my essential viewing as I ease into the weekend with coffee and french toast) I decided to challenge my modest pastry skills by making rough puff pastry.
At some point, I need to start making these things with normal flour, because gluten-free is never going to have the same effects, but at the moment my greed overpowers my desire to bake to perfection – I want to eat my creations at the end! So, gluten-free it is!
Ok, so I could have gone the whole hog and made proper puff pastry, but that would have involved greater forward planning than I have the capacity for, and if Rough Puff is good enough for the great Monsieur Roux, then it’s good enough for me.
I know this will reveal just how sheltered a life I lead, but it felt deliciously deviant to pour flour all over the worktop rather than put it in a bowl, especially when it also came to tipping butter and water on. If you have never done this, I urge you to do so. It is messy, squidgy and utterly wonderful. Best of all, it all eventually comes together in a dough, leaving you with very little mess – and no bowl to wash up!
On this day of new things, it seemed fitting to try something outlandish, so I opted for a Tarte Tatin. There seem to be a hundred variations on the ‘traditional’ tarte tatin, but they basically involve caramel and fruit with a puff pastry top, which then becomes the base when it is turned out. I only had cooking apples in the house, though normal eating apples work better because they hold their shape. Other fruit can be used instead, but the thought of caramel and apples was just too tempting.
Once the pastry had been folded, rolled and rested repeatedly (a thoroughly therapeutic and not even vaguely difficult process), it didn’t take long to put everything together.
What resulted was hardly the most glamorous Tarte Tatin in the world, but a Tarte Tatin it was, with golden, flaky pastry and a sweet, enticing topping.
The whole recipe comprises just 5 ingredients (6 if you include the pinch of salt) but it really does not need anything more. Its simplicity is what makes it so wonderful. If you are going to put that much effort into pastry, you want it to be the star of the show, not lost under a myriad of flavours.
For the Puff Pastry:
200g plain flour
200g butter, cubed
100ml cold water
Pinch of salt
For the Apple Topping:
2 apples, cut into thin slices
3 tbsps sugar
On a clean work surface, tip out the flour and push into a mound. Make a well in the centre and put the cubes of butter into it. Begin to combine the butter and flour by drawing flour inwards into centre with your fingertips. This is a delightful part of the process – enjoy it!
Once the flour and butter is roughly combined, add some of the cold water and bring the pastry mix together with your hands to form a dough. Add more water until it binds together.
Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 mins.
Dance, read a book, drink a cup of tea, do whatever it is that will keep you occupied for half an hour!
Lightly flour the work surface and roll out the pastry into a wide rectangle. Fold up the shorter ends like a book so that one end goes over the other – this will give you three layers altogether. Turn the pastry by a quarter and roll out again. Fold up again in the same way, then rewrap and leave to rest in the fridge for 20 mins.
Improve your dance/read another chapter.
Repeat the folding and rolling (I actually got a bit carried away and folded and rolled a few times between rests – and nothing disastrous happened) and return to fridge for the final time.
You can now either leave the pastry in the fridge for another day, freeze it for use another week, or leave it to rest for the same amount of time, then use it straight away.
Sorry, no dance practice this time – you need to make the filling!
Preheat the oven to 200C and grease a baking tin (this is not the traditional way, but as I didn’t have an ovenproof frying pan, I figured it would work). Place the baking tin in the oven to warm.
Put the sugar and water into the pan. Turn on the heat and leave to slowly caramelize – keep your eye on it and tilt the pan around occasionally. Meanwhile, chop the apples into thin slices. As soon as the sugar begins to turn a light brown colour, remove from heat and add a little butter to it. Mix well to make a glossy, golden caramel sauce.
Remove the baking tin from the oven and pour in the caramel. Arrange the apple slices in the tin, making sure that you fill all the gaps. Dot a little butter onto the apple slices.
Roll out the pastry until it is fairly thin, then cut out a circle large enough for the baking tin. Put it over the top and tuck the edges into the tin. Prick with a fork a few times.
Bake for 20-30 mins until the pastry is crisp and golden.
Quickly and carefully (remember there is hot caramel underneath!) turn out the tart onto a serving plate. Cut into slices and serve with cream or ice cream.