tarte tatin

bob does not dislike pears, but he likes apples better. So is was a remarkable act of self-constraint that a substitution was not made in this recipe, in view of the fact that a web search turned up many apple versions of the classic French dish. This is a recipe he would never have found if not for Miriam, who is a devoted NY Times reader and had already tried it several times. Which was a strong vote in its favor given our appreciation for her good taste. It did not hurt that we had recently tried a pear walnut tart from our favorite Italian food source Carlino's and had liked it. Plus we have already down repeatedly a successful traditional French apple tarte.

The upside-down cake category to which it belongs is the reason bob followed through. While an admitted lover of traditional upside-down cakes (like pineapple!), the team founder had never actually made one himself. One of those odd things like Italians and cheesecakes no doubt. This seemed to be a good occasion to give it a try. For this recipe, the only part that seemed risky before the execution was the flip of the pan to upside-down the tart. It turned out to be not a problem. Of course bob's usual advice to ani to read the recipe through carefully before beginning turned was not followed by the team leader on this one, which talks about only halving the peeled pears and removing the core. Not only is it a lot easier to core the pears if you quarter them lengthwise, they arrange in a circle together much more cooperatively as quarters than halves. What was a bit perplexing was the refusal of the liquid from the pears in the caramelized syrup to evaporate after a long time compared to the recipe. We just jammed it into the oven after a while and it seemed to be okay. One mistake we made was tossing in some dark rum during the initial caramelization process. The sugar did not like it and hissed while clumping up. Some of the clumps solidified into rock candy and had to be removed, though most of the mixture was salvageable. Even before that we started melting the butter in the pan since some recipes had gone that route, but not this one. We pulled out the stick when we realized it so there was a bit of a coating of melted butter for the sugar to start with. After the booze improvisation failed we added a bit more butter, but the water that oozes out of the pears is really sufficient moisture if the original recipe is followed. Another bright idea was to throw in some roasted walnut baking pieces just before laying down the pie crust. We forgot them in the oven so they were toast, forcing us to stick to the original game plan.

A year and a half before this occasion, the next door neighbor of my adopted Italian family in the beach town of Sabaudia south of Rome learned of the dr bob dessert reputation inspired by some local cheesecake production. Proudly she wanted to show her talents in the torta department and showed us how she made a pineapple upside-down cake in and on her neighbor's stove but the unfamiliar kitchen led to some glitches that spoiled the aesthetic appeal of the finished product. She made another one for dr bob the next weekend to restore her image and the cakes. The next summer the sad news was delivered to the returning dr bob: Marisa had died. Old age. But she left behind her recipe with the team. We'll have to give it a try soon.


6 firm large pears (we used 3 Anjou and 2 Bosc)
2 T fresh lemon juice (we squeezed a whole small lemon)
3/4 c sugar (we tried 1/3 c of a brown sugar Splenda mixture—twice as sweet the package said—and 1/3 regular sugar)
4 T unsalted butter
tatin pastry or one 9 in frozen soft pie crust at room temp
tatin pastry
1 c flour, plus some for rolling the dough
1/2 t salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 of one egg yolk mixed with 1 T water
(mix one yolk with 2 T water and use half)


  1. If you must do your own crust, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and add the butter. Cut in the butter with a dough cutter until you makek pea sized pieces.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolk and water. Discard half and add the remaining half to the flour mixture and stir until incorporated.
  3. Press gently into a ball and refrigerate about 30 minutes until firm but not hard.
  4. Roll out just before the tart is done on the stovetop.
  5. Pat the ball into a flat disk on a floured surface and roll into a circle about 1/4 in thick, using lots of flour since the dough is very sticky. The circle should be cut about 1/2 in wider than the skillet top so it can be tucked in around the pears.

easy approach start here:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375, and make sure one of the racks is about 1/3 from the bottom.
  2. Peel the pears, but in half lengthwise and core them. We then halved them again lengthwise as a sign of independence. This actually helps to stack them around a circle later. For now place them in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice.
  3. Put the sugar in a 10 in (oven injectable) stainless steel skillet over low heat and when it begins to melt, stir until it is all melted and turns a pale yellow color. We may have actually helped this along with some of the butter on our first attempt, but the memory is vague.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and arrange the pears in a circle with a few in the middle.
  5. Put pieces of butter over the pears and cook about 20 minutes over medium heat until the juices from the pears are almost evaporated.
  6. Slap on the round pie crust, tucking it in at the edges and place in the oven to bake  about 25 to 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
  7. Remove from the oven and let sit 10 minutes.
  8. Loosen the crust from the edges if necessary and invert on a serving plate by placing the plate over the skillet and skillfully flipping the combination over. Let sit a few minutes before serving. Cut wedges like an ordinary pie.


  1. Molly O'Neill, NY Times Sunday magazine food writer, Fall 2005. No trace of her on their web, not even in the pay-to-play archives.
  2. Being an aging boomer, the first line of our little rambling above could not but evoke memories of Tom Smothers whining to his comedic partner and brother Dick "Mother always liked you best."
  3. Literally days after we try this pear delight,  Bon Appetit arrives with a cover shot of an apple tatin, generic version: caramelized apple tart, leading the lineup of Must-Have Desserts [January, 2006, arrives mid-December]. Now we really have to try the official crust.
  4. Illustrations available.
tarttrtn.htm: 18-aug-2006 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]