In New England, fall arrives in fits and spurts. Until every last leaf has fallen and every last apple has dropped from the trees, fall weather can be unpredictable. People and animals scurry about pulling and picking whatever may be stored for the long winter ahead when the frozen ground will refuse to yield anything edible. Miles of apple orchards and fieldstone walls are part of the cherished autumn landscape and the pickings as spectacular as the breathtaking foliage changing. Baking with apples grown from backyard fruit trees is especially rewarding, but pick the variety carefully if visuals are an important part of the finished plate. Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Northern Spy, and Fuji are some of the best for baking as they hold their shape when cooked. This tart is rustic, good hot or cold, and impressive. It looks and tastes like fall. The cheddar crust and the caramelized shallots make this a savory apple pie of sorts. Tatin means cooked upside down. This puff pastry crust version makes an easy short cut to mastering an enviable technique once reserved only for skilled bakers. If you have a wooden spoon to tuck the pastry around half cooked skillet apples and shallots, you may just fall in love with this fall beauty and refuse to cut into it.
cuisine French
difficulty Moderate
season Fall & Winter
serves 6

Ingredients

3 Braeburn apples 6 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons unsalted butter Freshly ground black pepper Sea salt flakes 12 thyme sprigs, some whole plus 4 teaspoons leaves 1 cup Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, grated 14 ounce package all-butter puff pastry

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place the olive oil and butter in a 10" cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  3. When the butter begins to bubble, add the shallots cut sides down. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until just golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and reserve.
  4. Add the apples to the cast iron skillet, season with salt and pepper, and cook 2 minutes, turn the apples and cook 2 minutes more, or just until starting to turn golden. Turn the burner heat off.
  5. Tuck the reserved shallots among the apples (making certain some are touching the bottom of the skillet which will eventually be the top of the tart).
  6. Distribute two teaspoons of thyme leaves and 1/2 cup of the cheddar evenly over the shallots and apples. 
  7. Roll out the puff pastry to 1/2" bigger than the skillet. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons more fresh thyme leaves, a bit of sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper,  and the remaining grated cheddar. Roll gently until the cheddar and thyme are one with the pastry.
  8. Place the pastry, (cheddar and thyme side down) over the apples and shallots.
  9. Use a wooden spoon to tuck the pastry into the edges of the pan until it forms a seal around the tart.
  10.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown (some edges may look quite dark but no worries). 
  11. Using oven mitts, place a serving plate over the pan, breathe, and confidently but very carefully turn out the tatin. 
  12. Finish the tart tatin with a flourish of sea salt flakes and the remaining sprigs of thyme. Serve hot or at room temperature.