Tarte Tatin

James Beard

Author and Educator

This French upside-down apple pie, tarte tatin, is baked in a skillet—not a pie pan—with the bottom crust on top. The key to a successful tarte lies in the type of skillet you use. Cast iron, enameled cast iron, or a special tarte tatin mold, available at many kitchenware shops, are best. In any case, it should be heavy-bottomed, with a handle that can withstand the heat of the oven.



  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon ice water (optional)


  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 5 to 8 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a mix of quarters and thirds
  • Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)


In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt with butter. Add egg yolk. Work the fat into the flour and egg mixture very quickly with your fingers or a heavy fork (or do it in a mixer with a paddle attachment), breaking up the fat and mixing it with the flour until it is the size of small peas. At this point you may or may not need additional liquid. Judge carefully. If you add too much liquid, you’ll have to add more flour, and that makes a tough crust. If you do need liquid, add a little ice water, a tablespoon at a time, work it in, then see if you can pull the dough into a ball with your hands. If not, add a touch more water. The idea is to get a light ball of dough that can be rolled out without crumbling or breaking apart. Pat the ball rather flat on plastic wrap, wrap it up, and chill in the refrigerator from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

When you are ready to make the tart, dissolve sugar over medium heat in a large sauté pan. When the sugar begins to dissolve, whisk until it turns into a dark amber caramel color. Watch it carefully as it can burn easily. When it reaches the desired color, remove from heat and whisk in butter. 

Return the pan to the heat and add the apples and cook over medium-high heat. Gently stir the apples into the caramel so that it coats the apples. Cook until apples begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon, if you like the flavor, although neither spice is used in a traditional tarte tatin.

Transfer apples into a heavy-bottomed 9 or 10-inch skillet and arrange into in a circular pattern while overlapping apples tightly. The number of apples you use depends on the size of your pan. Pour excess caramel over the apples. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow for shrinkage and for apples to cool before adding pastry. 

Carefully roll out the chilled pastry to a size that will fit inside the skillet. Lay the pastry over the apples, tucking it down inside the skillet. Make about 3 slits in the top with the point of a sharp knife. Place pan onto a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake until apples bubble up a bit around the edge and pastry is golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 30 minutes; then run a sharp knife around the edge of the tart and carefully invert it onto a plate larger than the skillet. Do this quickly and deftly so that apples don’t fall off. Arrange any apples that are stuck to the skillet.

Cut into wedges and serve warm. Heavy cream, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream make delicious accompaniments.


Adapted from James Beard's original recipe. Recipe photo and food styling by Judy Kim.


6 to 8 servings