The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I lived with a wonderful family in Brittany, France as part of an Indiana University immersion program. During my stay, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my lovely host mom Anny, learning how to make crêpes and galettes and mousse au chocolat (as well as the metric measuring cup system). Though this was before my pie obsession, one of the things we made together was a tarte tatin--the classic French tart where the fruit, generally apples, is caramelized in sugar and butter on the stove, then baked upside-down and flipped after baking. I remember Anny telling me the story of its invention: apparently the two Tatin sisters, owners of the Hotel Tatin accidentally baked a tart upside-down, then out of desperation served it to the guests who much to the sisters' surprise, gave it rave reviews.
I, much like the guests at the Hotel Tatin that night, love a tarte tatin. It's so simple to make, and shows off the beauty and flavor of the fruit paired with rich caramel. Plus you get to use your cast iron skillet! Though the classic tarte tatin is apple, you can really make a tarte tatin with any fresh fruit. One of my favorite pies to make in general is Ruth Reichl's pear tarte tatin, found in Gourmet. I was pleased to find this recipe for a fig-pistachio tarte tatin in the Pieminister cookbook, just as figs are coming into season down here. Since Pieminister is a British pie shop, all their recipes, like those I made with Anny are in metric. Here's my version of their fig-pistachio tartin, with ounce and cup conversions.
Fig-Pistachio Tarte Tatin
Adapted from The Pieminister Cookbook
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust, halved
16-20 small figs or 10-14 large figs
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
3 Tblsp. unsalted butter
4 oz. pistachios nuts, shelled
1-2 Tblsp. honey
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Once chilled, roll out into an 11-inch circle, stab it with a fork in several places, and place on a cookie sheet or cutting board between two sheets of parchment paper. Store in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Trim the stalks of the figs and halve them lengthwise. Set aside.
3. In a large oven-safe frying pan or cast iron skillet, place water and sugar and heat on low until sugar dissolves. Once sugar has dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring sugar water to a boil and cook without stirring until the syrup is thick and has become golden-caramel in color.
4. Reduce the heat and add the figs--making space so they all fit. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot caramel. Cook until the figs are tender and release juices but still hold their shape. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl.
5. Boil the caramelized juices until they are thick and syrupy, 3-5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Scatter the pistachios over the pan and return the figs to it, cut side down, in concentric circles.
6. Put the frying pan back on the heat until the juices bubble. Put the circle of pie crust on top of the filling and tuck it firmly into the edges of the frying pan to form a crust. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Once the tart has settled for a minute, put on your oven mits and flip the tart onto a plate (prend courage!). Drizzle the tart with honey and a few extra pistachios, if you desire and serve with goat's milk ice cream or Greek yogurt.
Oh, and don't be afraid of the skillet-to-plate tart flip. Just make sure that your plate is slightly bigger than your skillet, protect your hands with oven mitts, and trust yourself--you'll have no trouble. Consider it one of the rites of a baker.