Steve Cumper of­fers his take on a French clas­sic with this es­chalot and goat’s cheese tarte Tatin.

THERE ARE MANY STO­RIES re­count­ing the ori­gin of the ven­er­a­ble tarte Tatin, an up­side-down ap­ple tart much loved by Fran­cophiles, pas­try en­thu­si­asts and the In­sta­gramer­rati. Al­though its his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy is du­bi­ous, the most en­ter­tain­ing ver­sion is the tale in which French gen­eral Napoleon Bon­a­parte is cast as the first re­cip­i­ent of this dessert. Napoleon, on a mini-break from the battlefront where he raged his tire­less war against those who deemed him short of stature, found him­self ar­riv­ing late to a busy lunch ser­vice at the De­moi­selles Tatin’s hum­ble auberge in the Loire Val­ley. Hav­ing be­gun the big clean down, the cooks prob­a­bly rolled their eyes sky­ward when the fran­tic owner burst into the kitchen with the news that they would be cook­ing for Bon­a­parte him­self. ‘Merde!’ came the cry from the head cook, upon re­al­is­ing all that re­mained of the lunch ser­vice was a sin­gle ap­ple tart. Ac­cord­ing to folk­lore, one of the young girls was so ner­vous about serv­ing the Em­peror that she fum­bled the pie and it tum­bled up­side down onto his await­ing plate. Not only was its de­liv­ery clumsy but, to her hor­ror, the ap­ples were darkly tanned, hav­ing spend too much time on the stove­top. If Tripad­vi­sor had been around in the 19th cen­tury, the re­view would not have been pretty. Ea­ger to get back to his troops, Napoleon gob­bled the tart down and sur­prised the sis­ters by re­quest­ing they pre­pare the same dish for him on sub­se­quent vis­its. I imag­ine the com­bined sighs of re­lief would have sounded like a mis­tral whoosh­ing through the auberge. To this day, the clas­sic tarte Tatin is made by cook­ing ap­ples with but­ter and sugar in a heavy skil­let so they caramelise ap­peal­ingly. It’s then baked in the oven un­der a blan­ket of but­tery puff pas­try. When the pas­try is golden and crisp, the tart is in­verted and left to cool — ide­ally on an or­nate wire cool­ing rack, perched on a win­dowsill framed by blue shut­ters and a tum­ble of bloom­ing wis­te­ria. You know, the type of Ko­dak mo­ment the French tourism of­fice ap­proves of. How­ever, it’s not just ap­ples that can be used to top (or should that be bot­tom?) a tarte Tatin, other fruits and veg­eta­bles also work well. In the early 1990s, for in­stance, one could hardly find a menu that didn’t in­clude a tarte Tatin of some sort — pears, apri­cots, ba­nanas, peaches and even toma­toes all made an ap­pear­ance. It was dur­ing this time that I be­gan serv­ing a ver­sion made with es­chalots, or French shal­lots as they’re some­times known. In fact, I was so fond of this dish that I craftily added it to my Cham­pagne Mumm Schol­ar­ship Gas­tron­omy ap­pli­ca­tion back in 1994. My strat­egy was to ap­peal to the French own­ers of the Cham­pagne house that stumped up the cash for the schol­ar­ship. Sadly, in my case, there were no prizes for sec­ond place. The recipe for that tart was sim­i­lar to the one I’m shar­ing now. The trick is to cook the es­chalots long and slow on the stove­top, re­leas­ing the sweet­ness of the onions, and al­low­ing the sugar and but­ter to mag­i­cally trans­form into a rich caramel. The goat’s cheese is a creamy but astrin­gent ad­di­tion to the dish, where sweet and savoury col­lude with the tex­ture of puff pas­try to cre­ate the per­fect au­tumn meal. Steve Cumper is a chef and fun­ny­man who lives in Tas­ma­nia and dreams of one day own­ing a fleet of hol­i­day vans called Wicked Cumpers.

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