For the uninitiated, a French meal is often comprised of three acts: an hors d’oeuvre (introductory course), the plat principal (main course), followed by dessert. The meal may begin with an aperitif, like the licorice-flavored, local spirit of Pastis, as a vehicle to “open the appetite.” And it may end with a digestif—like a Cognac, or another kind of brandy—to help with digestion.
And what routinely baffles outsiders is how the French can use such rich ingredients—take the classic mother sauces, like Hollandaise, made with egg yolk and clarified butter, or Béchamel, whole milk thickened with flour—and yet, the population is a model of cardiac health. According to the World Health Organization, France’s heart disease mortality rates are the second lowest worldwide; their obesity rate hovers just over 9%, while we battle with ratings over 30% in the United States.
This has led to the phrase, “the French paradox,” a topic of hot debate. In Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, he argues that their health is linked to their consumption of natural provisions versus heavily processed foodstuffs. Meanwhile, The Fat Fallacy of Will Clower cites smaller portions, less snacking, less sugar-packed fare, and overall, less junk food available as the underlying “X factor.” And then there was that episode of 60 Minutes spotlighting resveratrol—found in red wine, which the French drink liberally—and studies that linked it with longevity and a lower risk of cardiac arrest. (Consequently, red wine began to fly off the shelves.)
Whatever the explanation is, this much is clear: French cuisine is in a class all its own. And with this recipe courtesy of Marian Pikna, Chef de Cuisine of the M/S Bizet, we invite you to bring a taste of France into your kitchen. And don’t be intimidated: As Julia Child once wrote in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
Tarte Tatin (French Apple Tart)
- 6-8 Granny Smith apples (peeled and sliced)
- ½ package thawed puff pastry
- 6 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ cup butter
- Vanilla ice cream (for serving)
- Mint leaves (optional garnish)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the sliced apples with the lemon juice and a sprinkling of the sugar. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the remaining sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat on low, and carefully place the apple slices into the skillet. Turn the heat back up to medium and cook the apples until a thick caramel has formed (should take 20-25 minutes). Turn the heat off and set the skillet aside.
- Roll out the pastry dough into an 11-inch circle. Lay the pastry around a rolling pin and place it over the cooked apples to cover them completely. Tuck the edges of the pastry down inside the skillet and then prick the pastry lid all over with a fork.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Loosen the pastry edges and turn out the tart, upside down, so that the pastry becomes the base, under the apples.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, and garnish with a mint leaf, if desired.
Indulge in the fabled culinary delights of France when you join our Seine: Paris to Normandy River Cruise Tour.