The 20 best French recipes: part 4 (2024)

Richard Bertinet’s tarte tatin

I’m sure everyone knows the story of how this tart is supposed to have been created accidentally by les demoiselles Tatin, the Tatin sisters, but in case you haven’t … One of the sisters is said to have been softening apples in butter and sugar for an apple tart, then realised that she had left them in too long so they had caramelised and were sticking to the pan. She tried to rescue the situation by putting the pastry over the top, popping the pan into the oven, then turning the whole thing over to serve it. The guests at the hotel where the sisters worked apparently loved it. Whether the story is true or not, the tart has become one of the most famous desserts.

There is an assumption that tarte tatin is difficult to make, but when I teach people how to do it, they usually find that the only tricky part is turning the tart over when it has been baked. I think it helps to make it in a frying pan rather than in a tin because you can hold onto the handle to turn it over. There are various schools of thought about how to make the tart. Some people slice the apples, others halve them, which is the way I prefer. Some people fill the pan with sugar then put in the apples, cover them with pastry and put the pan into the oven straight away, but this way you run the risk of the sugar becoming only a light, rather anaemic-looking caramel. I prefer something a bit darker and more toffee-like, so I start the tart off on the stove to get the caramel going. The key is to do this slowly and carefully so that the sugar doesn’t get too dark, or even burn, and become brittle – more like toffee apple than tarte tatin, and not good for the teeth.

Choose eating apples that have a good balance of sweetness and sharpness, such as Cox, Braeburn or one of the characterful local or heritage varieties you can often find in farm shops or markets.

Makes 1 x 22 cm tart
good ready-made butter puff pastry 500g
eating apples, such as Cox or Braeburn 6-8
good butter 100g
caster sugar 200g
cinnamon a pinch

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Skim a fine film of flour over your work surface, roll out the pastry until it is 4-5 mm thick and large enough to fit loosely in a 22cm ovenproof frying pan. Prick the pastry well all over and either lay it on a large plate, or place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and roll it up, then put it into the fridge to rest while you prepare the apples and sugar.

Peel the apples, then cut in half from top to bottom and remove the cores.

Melt the butter in the frying pan over a medium heat. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over it and cook gently for about 1 minute. Quickly arrange the apples, flat-side upwards, in the pan and keep over a medium heat, shaking it from time to time to ensure that the apples don’t stick to the bottom.

Don’t worry if you can’t fit in all the apples initially; they will shrink a little as they cook and you will be able to squeeze in more as necessary.

You need to pack the apples tightly together so that the tart holds its shape when you turn it over.

Continue cooking gently and shaking the pan until the sugar turns to a rich caramel – this will take about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and rest it for 5 minutes.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and lay it loosely over the top of the apples. It needs to tuck in around the edge of the pan until it almost touches the caramel.The best way to do this without your fingers touching the caramel, which burns very badly, is to use the back of a teaspoon to nudge the pastry into place.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is really dark golden brown. Don’t forget that when you flip the tart over after it is baked, the pastry is going to be the base, holding the apples and caramel together, so it needs to be really well coloured and crispy, otherwise it will become soggy with the juices from the apples.

Remove the pan from the oven and leave to cool for about a minute. This lets the caramel set a little and also makes it safer to turn out, but still take care as the caramel will still be hot.

To turn out, place a large plate over the pan and, holding both plate and pan firmly turn them over together so that the tart is apple-side up on the plate. You can serve the tart cold, but I think it is best warm, with creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

For a little twist to the classic recipe, I suggest you use a butter flavoured with sea salt; it will give a gorgeous salted caramel flavour to the tart.
From Pastry by Richard Bertinet (Ebury Press, £20). To order a copy for £17, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Fanny Zanotti’s creme brulee

The 20 best French recipes: part 4 (1)

There is not much to say about creme brulee that hasn’t already been said. It’s creamy, it’s delicious, it’s understated. Even more so, in fact, when it’s turned into a lonesome pleasure. One ramekin. One spoon. One crisp caramelised crust. I can’t promise it will change your life. But I can tell you for sure that it will make you feel better.

Serves 1
whipping cream 100g
vanilla pod seeds from ½
egg yolks 2
caster sugar 1 tbsp
demerara sugar to caramelise

Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Boil a kettle of water.

Bring the cream and vanilla seeds to the boil in a small pan over a medium heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together in a small bowl. When the cream has boiled, slowly pour it over the egg mixture, whisking as you go. Scoop off any froth with a large spoon and pour the mixture into a small ramekin.

Place the ramekin in a deep baking tray and pour in hot water so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekin. Bake for 40 minutes, or until set yet still very slightly wobbly in the centre.

Carefully lift the ramekin from the water-bath and leave to cool at room temperature for a few minutes. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

Sprinkle with a thin coating of demerara sugar and burn with a blow torch or place under a hot grill for a few minutes until the sugar turns into caramel.

Crack the caramel crust with a spoon and feel happy.
Extract taken from Paris Pastry Club by Fanny Zanotti (Hardie Grant Books, £20). To order a copy for £16.40, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Raymond Blanc’s lemon tart

The 20 best French recipes: part 4 (2)

Lemon tart is a favourite dessert. Making it is quite a lengthy process but relatively simple. You could prepare double the quantity of pastry and freeze half for another dessert, if you wish.

Serves 4-6
For the sweet pastry:
unsalted butter 120g, at room temperature, diced
icing sugar 75g, sifted, plus extra for dusting
egg yolks 3
plain flour 250g
water 2 tbsp

For the lemon cream:
eggs 5 medium, organic or free range
caster sugar 150g
lemon juice 85ml
lemon zest 2 tbsp, finely grated
double cream 150ml

Make the sweet pastry. In a large bowl, with a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the soft butter and icing sugar to a cream; then beat in 2 of the egg yolks.

Add the flour and, with your fingertips, rub the butter mixture and flour together to achieve a crumbly texture. Add the water and press the mixture together to form a ball.

With the palms of your hands, knead the pastry on a lightly floured work surface until it is blended (maximum 30 seconds – do not overwork the pastry or it will be hard and lose its crumbly texture). Flatten the pastry slightly with the palm of your hand, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes (this helps the dough lose its elasticity).

Make the lemon cream. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest and whisk for a few seconds. Add the cream and whisk it in, then place in the fridge.

On a lightly floured work surface, evenly roll out the pastry into a circle 3mm thick.

Roll the pastry over the rolling pin and unroll it over a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. With one hand lift the pastry and with the other gently tuck it into the bottom edge of the tin so that it fits tightly. Be careful not to stretch it. Cut off excess pastry by rolling the pin over the top edge of the tin. Take a small ball of pastry and gently press it all around the base of the tart to ensure a snug fit. Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork and refrigerate for 30 minutes (this helps prevent shrinkage during cooking). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3.

Line the pastry case with tin foil and fill with dried beans, pushing them against the side. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and lift out both foil and beans. Return the tart tin to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes. Brush the inside of the pastry with the remaining egg yolk and return to the oven for 1 minute (this creates a seal on the pastry and prevents it becoming soggy when the lemon cream is added). Turn the oven down to 140C/gas mark 1.

Pour the lemon cream mixture into a saucepan and warm it gently (this is to speed up the cooking time of the tart), being careful not to heat it too much or it will scramble. Pour the warm mixture into the pastry case and bake for 25 minutes, until barely set.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for at least 1 hour, then dredge icing sugar around the edge of the tart.

Remove the tart from the tin and place on a serving plate.
From Simple French Cookery by Raymond Blanc (BBC Books, £12.99). To order a copy for £10.65, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Pierre Koffman’s souffle aux pistaches

The 20 best French recipes: part 4 (3)

Serves 6
milk 100ml
pistachio paste 50g
egg 1, plus 1 egg yolk
caster sugar 50g
plain flour 40g
soft unsalted butter 20g, for greasing
good quality dark chocolate 50g, grated
egg whites 6
icing sugar for dusting

For the pistachio ice cream
milk 500ml
double cream 500ml
liquid glucose 45g
pistachio paste 75g
egg yolks 12
caster sugar 200g

Start by making the ice cream. Place the milk, cream, glucose and pistachio paste in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Add a little of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and whisk very quickly to incorporate, then pour into the pan with the rest of the milk and cook over a low heat, stirring continuously, until a thermometer reaches 82C (180F). Remove from the heat and pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl set inside an ice bath – a large bowl filled with ice and cold water – and leave to cool. Once cool, churn in an ice-cream machine.

Heat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. For the soufflés, place the milk and pistachio paste in a small pan and bring to the boil. Beat the egg, egg yolk and half the caster sugar in a bowl until pale, then add the flour and mix until combined. Pour over the milk mixture, whisking to combine, then pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over a low-medium heat for 4 minutes, whisking continuously until the mixture is thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Pour the mixture into a bowl, cover with foil and keep in a warm place.

Thoroughly grease six individual soufflé dishes with the butter, then dust the insides with the grated chocolate. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add the remaining caster sugar and whisk again until firm. Whisk the pistachio mixture for a few seconds, to loosen, then add a quarter of the egg white and whisk vigorously. Add half the remaining egg white, stirring quickly with a spatula to remove any lumps. Add the rest of the egg white in the same way. Gently pour the soufflé mixture into the prepared dishes and bake for 10 minutes, until risen. Lightly dust the soufflés with icing (confectioners’) sugar. Serve with a quenelle of pistachio ice cream gently placed on top at the last moment.
From Classic Koffmann by Pierre Koffmann (Jacqui Small, £30). To order a copy for £25.50, go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

The 20 best French recipes: part 4 (2024)


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