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Upside down is in

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"When you flip anything, you really ... you just have to have the courage of your convictions." Julia Child

This all started a couple of weeks ago with the above picture, of Nigel Slater's Onion Tatin - well I'm now not sure to be honest if it was this one, as when I went searching for it I found it dated back to 2010. Still whatever it was I saw recently it looked very much like this, and rather tempting. So I put it aside for consideration. They're special elongated kinds of onions by the way. Don't know if you can get them here.

Since then there seem to be Tartes Tatin everywhere. I'm pretty sure there was one in a recent Coles Magazine first, though, I can't find that either, then on Adam Liaw's Cook Up the other day, there was someone making the classic apple version, and finally today - which is why I am now on topic - I decided to be good and throw out some magazines. It's yellow bin day and there wasn't much in it so I was looking for something to add. There is a stack of magazines in our spare room and in a virtuous moment I decided that I was not going to do anything with them - potentially cookable recipes had already been extracted and put in my database, and there is now spare shelving anywhere for them. So I picked up half - they are pretty heavy and threw them in the bin. I was about to do the same with the rest, but then decided that it might be interesting to look at some of them.

The first one was a Gourmet Traveller from March 2001 - twenty years ago, and there on the first page was Asparagus, Kervella Goat's Cheese and Spanish Onion Tarte Tatin. No recipe available but even though I shall be giving lots of links to recipes (and pictures too) they are really an aside in a way. Because it's more the process that I'm looking at here. Anyway it proves it's not just a thing of today's moment. People have obviously been tampering with the original classic apple version for a very long time.

I was going to say that initially the choice of what went into the tart would have been pretty conservative - tomatoes mostly, and maybe onions. But Gourmet Traveller obviously proved me wrong on that point too. You can find a few asparagus recipes but not many. I was right about the tomatoes though - here is a version from Beverley Sutherland Smith's A Seasonal Kitchen, also quite old and also no recipe. However, if you want to try tomatoes, Felicity Cloake will take you through the variations and the potential pitfalls. The main one with tomatoes being that they are too juicy - 94% water according to Google, says Felicity, which means that your pastry is in danger of being soggy.

The overriding problem with the tarte tatin though is how to get it out of its pan or tin because:

"All you have to do to unlock the (potential) glory of your exquisitely crafted dessert is to upend a heavy cast-iron pan filled with scalding liquid onto a breakable platter wearing padded mittens that wouldn't look out of place on an Eskimo." It's Not Bragging If You Made It.

Indeed. I was somewhat horrified to see how many of the recipes that I found said nothing helpful on this front. Even Felicity Cloake, who went into lots of the other problems with a tarte tatin, did not mention the turning out process at all. Mostly they just said to 'turn out' and in one of Jamie's recipes he didn't even say that - he just told you to serve it. And when I did an image search I couldn't find anything there either. Now, to be fair, I have not looked at videos demonstrating tarte tatin and I'm guessing that some of those might have given you a few tips. Mostly though you just get this sort of thing - Jamie being a trifle more explanatory:

"So get a serving plate or board larger than your pan and put an oven glove on to protect the arm holding the board. Put the board or plate on top of the pan, then quickly, carefully and confidently turn it out." Jamie Oliver

'Confidently' being the word to concentrate on here. And I recommend not using a cast-iron pan - much too heavy.

When I had a further look, I did find a few potential little tips. This picture is from a blog that suggests that you tip it out onto a rack over a baking tray to catch any drips. Well yes, but how do you actually flip it over without it flying everywhere - you're not holding the rack after all. Anyway this is obviously a cheat picture because whoever is holding the pan has no gloves on. That tin would be very hot. I understand the concept though because you could then scoop up the juices and 'drizzle' them over the top of the tart, rather than having them soak into the pastry and make it soggy.

That guy on Adam Liaw's Cook Up program had a pretty nifty trick, in that he used a pan that had a lid, so when he took the pan out of the oven, he put the lid on and just turned the pan over. Much tidier - though, I'm guessing that unless the lid had a really tight seal you might get the juices pouring out the sides - over you and everything within reach really. Then, of course, you have to get it off the lid on to a serving plate. 'Just slide it off' he said. And his did. I bet mine wouldn't. Still it's an approach worth thinking about.

I think Jamie does advise in one of his recipes to choose your pan carefully, so that you can fit your plate over the whole of the open area. Lots of them have the handle in such a position that a you can't really cover the pan very easily. Or at the very least the tart is not centred over your plate.

Then there's the argument about flat or lipped. You can see from Jamie's quote that he is suggesting a flat plate or board. I guess the advantage of this is that the juices will spread everywhere and not soak into the pastry. But that's also a disadvantage is it not? I mean juices everywhere. He's not alone in saying flat, but lots of others say a dish or plate with a lip so that the juices won't go everywhere. The real trick is to have cooked your tart so that there are no juices - well just a suggestion of juice that makes the top look glazed and lovely.

Final problem. It won't come out, or some of it comes out and some of it doesn't. Well run a palette knife around the edges before you start, so that the pastry doesn't stick to the sides. That would be a disaster. Imagine half or your tart on the plate and half of it still hanging to the sides. I think it might tear and collapse everywhere. Many of the recipes suggest you give it a good shake - even a bang - as you turn it out. Actually if just some of your topping sticks to the bottom, this is not really a big problem as you can usually lift it out and put it back on top of the tart. Nobody will know.

Ok - so now I have put you off, let me tempt you with all the possibilities. For:

"When an idea is as good as tarte tatin, it would be nothing short of a culinary crime to confine it to apples" Felicity Cloake

Obviously you can do it with other fruit, and pears are the most common alternative, but today I am concentrating on veggies.

But first a word about pastry. Anything goes really. Shortcrust and puff are the usual alternatives, but I also saw filo - a few buttered layers, and the shortcrust pastry sometimes had cheese in it as in Alice Hart's Pear and Parmesan version, which maybe looks a tiny bit burnt.

Another word about the pastry. You have to tuck it down the sides of the pan over your base - so make sure your pan is either very non-stick or very well greased. You can't really line it with baking paper that easily because you have been cooking the caramel base and your veggies in it. Which is why you need to check the greasing of the sides before you tuck in the pastry. Pastry sticking to the side is a complete disaster.

So let's start with onions because onions are a real favourite of the vegetable tarte tatin cooks. Well they caramelise beautifully don't they? I think I tried Delia's version once, but honestly it was a bit disappointing. Nigel Slater has a couple of other goes with onions: Shallots, apples, Parmesan, and Sausage and onion (nobody else does sausages). Coles' Sarah Hobbs does a Caramelised onion tarte tatin, Donna Hay does a very pretty Caramelised vincotto onion tarte tatin, The Age Good Food presents a rather wonderful looking Caramelised onion, eschallot, leek and fennel with goat's curd whilst Taste has Pumpkin and red onion tarte tatin. Goat's cheese or curd if you're a real foodie, is very popular by the way with all of these tart makers.

Individual tarts like Donna Hay's version would, by the way be much easier to turn out. A giant one would be pretty much impossible.

For the rest - well it's mostly carrots, with a couple of mixed root vegetables, and a leek version - which should probably have gone with the onions: Carrot Tarte Tatin - Coles, Carrot and honey Tarte Tatin - Coles/Sarah Hobbs, Carrot, caraway and coriander tarte tatin with herbed yoghurt and radish from The Age Good Food, and Leeks tarte tatin and Beetroot tarte tatin with goat's cheese from Taste, and finally Root vegetable tarte tatin - Food Urchin. There's probably a mushroom one out there, but I didn't see one.

I guess they are all the usual suspects, but once you've mastered the basic technique, cook your veggies in something that will caramelise a bit - butter, balsamic vinegar, vincotto and suchlike, add some herbs, top with your pastry, bake for just the right amount of time and then do that trick of turning out. And if you succeed it will be sensational. The original Tarte tatin is apparently Marco Pierre White's favourite dessert.

Upside down, of course, extends to cakes too and there are plenty of those around at the moment as well - pineapples, bananas, apples, plums, peaches ... And I only mention the cakes because my top of the pops for upside down - and it's something we have fairly often is Belinda Jefferey's Upside down tomato and basil pie. I think I have urged you to try it before, but if you haven't as yet, give it a go. She calls it a pie, but really it's a sort of cake. Much easier to turn out too - and all those juices happily go into the cake bottom.


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