Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tarte Tatin in The Regal Loire Valley-France

The extravagant Château de Chambord, a hunting lodge for François I, is the largest of the Loire châteaux, boasting 440 rooms

The upside-down apple tart is quintessentially French – but one village in particular lays claim to its invention, saying that it was born in the tiny village of Lamotte-Beuvron when the Tatin sisters pulled it from their oven. Their name still clings to the dish, but every bakery and bistro throughout the château-strewn Loire Valley has a version of the apple and sugar-soaked tarte Tatin.

The year 1889 was a significant one for France: the Eiffel Tower was completed, and an apple tart blazed its way into the culinary chronicles.
Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, two sisters who ran a hotel in the little village of Lamotte-Beuvron, created their tart tour de force purely by accident, or so the story goes. While racing to get through a busy lunch service, Stéphanie threw a pan of apples, sugar, and butter into the oven, thinking there was pastry on the bottom. The apples caramelized, turning a luminous bronze, and she then attempted to “save” the dessert by adding a pastry lid and putting it back into the oven. Rather than admit a mistake, the sisters flipped over their “tart nouveau,” carved it up immediately, and served it. That’s the official story, at least, recounted by La Confrérie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin (The Brotherhood of the Tarte Tatin), its vigilant protectors and promoters.
Sticklers for tradition, the Brotherhood insists the butter goes in first, followed by the sugar, with the apple quarters layered on top – then it’s into the oven to bake, just as in the sisters’ day. Not everyone follows this code; some cooks prefer to caramelize the butter and sugar separately before adding the apples to bake.
The tart has a formidable fan base, which grew from that first bunch of hunters at the sisters’ hotel, who lined up again the following week for a taste of the new apple dessert. More than 120 years later, hunters still flock to the Sologne region in fall, hot on the trail of wild boar, deer, duck, pheasants, and mushrooms.
Tourists, however, stalk different prey: the châteaux of the Loire, which materialize at every curve and corner. In the 16th century, the French court moved between these pleasure palaces for days of hunting and nights of feasting. The vast Château de Chambord was the brainchild of François I, who at 25 vowed to show the world just how passionate he was about architecture and hunting; his extravagant white stone Renaissance palace is in the midst of a forest teeming with game. In October it rings with the sound of stags rutting, as they clash antlers and bellow to establish their superiority and claim to the best of the hinds. Toward the north lies Orléans, once the capital of France and now the capital of the Loire Valley. It was here that Joan of Arc famously liberated the city of Orléans from the English in 1429, at only 17 years old.
From castles and grand gardens, to deeds of great bravery and accidental culinary creation, the Loire is full of astonishing sights, tales, and tastes.

Tarte Tatin is an “upside-down” apple pie, where the golden-brown caramelized apples sit atop a layer of flaky, buttery pastry

Best Places to Eat Tarte Tatin

Grand Hôtel du Lion d’Or
Didier Clément, chef at the Michelin-starred Lion d’Or in Romorantin-Lanthenay, is inspired by the produce of the Sologne and driven by the seasons. He’s also a fan of long-forgotten varieties of herbs, spices, and heirloom vegetables and fruits, such as reine de reinettes (“king of the pippins”) apples, and he works with gardeners and farmers in the region to grow them for his table. In fall and winter, he showcases his version of “la tarte des demoiselles Tatin,” cooking up perfectly caramelized apples on a puff-pastry base that would have the sisters beaming. He admits, however, that he actually prefers to serve his “lighter version” of the apple classic: a millefeuille of reinette apples crowned with quince ice cream (an old-fashioned favorite that Clément champions) and frothy caramel.
In summer, diners can eat in the flower-filled courtyard of the 16th-century hotel, and in winter they’re ensconced in high-end country comfort in the formal dining room, with its chandeliers and starched white cloths.
69 rue Georges Clemenceau, Romorantin- Lanthenay; open for lunch and dinner Wed–Mon, closed 1–13 Aug, 19–29 Dec and 16 Feb–10 Mar;
Also in the Loire
A visit to sleepy little Lamotte-Beuvron wouldn’t be complete without a pit stop at the Hôtel Tatin (; moderate), the alleged birthplace of the tart. It still has the same coal- and wood-burning tiled stove in which the famed sisters baked their tarts.
Reine de reinettes remains the apple of choice, cut into slices, quarters, or chunks, layered in a special pan, cooked to golden perfection, and served comfortingly warm.
Also in France
Philippe Conticini is an artist when it comes to cakes, tarts, and all the finer, sweeter things in life. His Paris bakery, La Pâtisserie des Rêves (; inexpensive), is chock-full of his creations, including an irresistible tarte Tatin. His rendition has slivers of apple piled high on a square of crispy puff pastry; the pale, almost translucent apple sheets on the bottom rise up the color scale to the caramel-colored beauties on top. The tarte is served with a pot of lime-flavored mascarpone.
Around the World
London’s much-lauded Le Gavroche (www.; expensive), founded in 1967 by the Roux brothers, dishes up a delicious tarte Tatin that perfectly finishes a top-end French meal. Individual-sized tarts brimming with caramelized apples come with a dollop of Madagascan-vanilla-flavored ice cream.
Three Days in the Loire Valley
Loved by kings and blessed by nature, the Loire Valley is an all-around crowd-pleaser.
DAY ONE : Lamotte-Beuvron sits deep in the Sologne, a region rich in nature and known for hiking, hunting, and riding. Wander the tree-flanked Canal de la Sauldre just outside the town, or take to one of the many hiking tracks on foot or horseback – they’re the ideal antidote to tarte Tatin overindulgence.
DAY TWO : Visit Orléans and immerse yourself in history, specifically that of the Maid of Orléans, Joan of Arc. Her former home is now a museum – Centre Jeanne d’Arc – devoted to telling her story. The stained-glass windows of Sainte Croix Cathedral also pay tribute. There’s even a Joan of Arc festival in May, complete with medieval fair.
DAY THREE : Head for Chambord, to explore Château de Chambord, Renaissance status symbol par excellence. There’s a magnificent interlocking double staircase, false windows, turrets galore, and an expansive roof terrace to which the king used to ascend in order to watch the start of the hunt, tournaments, and festivals.
Getting to Loire Valley in France
Fly to Tours airport, or take a high-speed train from Paris to the Loire Valley region.
Where to stay in Loire Valley in France
Auberge du Cheval Blanc (inexpensive) in Yvoy le Marron has comfortable rooms in an old coaching inn.
Château de Beauharnais (moderate) is grand, and just 7 miles (12 km) from Lamotte-Beuvron.
Grand Hôtel du Lion d’Or (expensive) (see facing page).
Tarte Tatin Festival
The annual Foire au Pays des la Tarte Tatin (tarte Tatin festival) takes place in mid-September in Lamotte-Beuvron. There are tart-making demonstrations, often by a renowned, Loire-based chef employing only the ingredients used by the revered Tatin sisters. Baking aficionados can enter the tarte Tatin contest, and the winner walks away with a handsome trophy. This is, after all, a festival designed for people “wishing to taste, evaluate, and defend the tarte Tatin.” It’s a serious, if delicious, business.
But individualists beware – any attempts to improve on the original recipe will be treated with the appropriate disdain.

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