Dinah * Apple Tarte Tatin or “Apple Butter Magic”

It began as an ordinary day in the small, picturesque town of Monroe, Maine. The snow from the day before slept quietly on windowsills and traced the trees in white; the sky sprawled out in endless blue. As she often did on Sunday afternoons, Dinah ventured over to her neighbor’s house for teatime with a kind, warm woman named Suzanne*. Suzanne was the only grown-up Dinah knew who served an afternoon tea, with assorted desserts, homemade breads and hearty soups. But on that particular Sunday, Suzanne served something special, and Dinah fell instantly in love.

Dinah Grossman

“I asked Suzanne what it was, and she couldn’t believe I didn’t know of Tarte Tatin,” Dinah remembers. “So she explained to me that it was very simple, and that all you really needed was apples, sugar and pastry dough.” Though Dinah was only twelve years old, she knew how to build a fire to feed the family’s wood stove and baking came naturally to her. That evening, Dinah returned home and immediately began researching this glorious little tart, trying out her neighbor’s recipe and variations from different cookbooks. “I loved that it was so simple and easy to make, with only a few ingredients, and yet it emerged from the oven this magical, jewel-like thing with such incredible complexity of flavor.”

Although she didn’t realize it then, the dessert would become a pivotal force in Dinah’s life and many of her most vivid memories could be traced back to Tarte Tatin. On a family trip to France years later, she stumbled upon it in almost every cafe she visited — like a series of chance meetings with an old friend in a foreign land. “Everywhere you went,” Dinah recalls, “there was an apple tart greeting you on the counter.”

In high school and college, Dinah spent her summers working in bakeries and fine dining restaurants, and in 2010, she launched Cheap Tart Bakery in Chicago, where she bakes up some of the most delicious tarts you will ever taste. Today, she has invited me to her kitchen for a peak at the process, and I watch intently as she scatters sugar into a cast iron pan with a flick of her wrist — telling me to add sugar just until it “soaks up the butter.” She picks up on subtle details that others probably wouldn’t notice, like the gentle sputtering of the caramel when the apples are almost done, and she rolls out the pastry dough in easy, graceful strokes. Dinah has clearly mastered the apple tart, and it’s one of the most popular items on her menu for good reason.

“A few weeks ago, a woman ordered a Tarte Tatin for a friend who had lost her husband very suddenly,” Dinah tells me, draping a circle of dough atop the amber apples and nudging the pan into the oven. “I guess the three of them had taken a trip to France a while back, and this woman wanted the tart as a way to reminisce. She told me later how she and her friend had laughed and cried and savored every bite, and I realized that it’s probably like that for a lot of people — something about the alchemy of those few ingredients that creates something so memorable.”

As Dinah pulls the finished tart from the oven and flips it carefully onto a plate, I know that this dessert – and the time I spent getting to know Dinah – is something I’ll remember for a long time to come. The edges of the tart have grown crisp and candied, still dripping in golden caramel, while the insides remain sturdy yet soft, flaky and tasting faintly of butter. The sliced apples are more intensely apple than they have ever been, and yet, they are something different entirely: soft pillows coated in honeyed glaze, light and heavenly and plump with flavor. It’s so good, I’m almost at a loss for words. “One of my old roommates used to call it ‘apple butter magic,’” Dinah says, laughing.

And honestly, I can’t think of a better way to put it.

*Note that Dinah’s neighbor’s name has been changed on request, and a few details regarding the weather in this story have been filled in where memory fails.

Three Quick Questions…and Dinah’s Answers

It’s your last meal. What do you have?

An enormous bowl of my favorite fruits: cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, nectarines and apples. Fruit is such a miracle to me — these absolutely beautiful objects that materialize on trees and bushes, seemingly out of nothing. I love looking at it as much as I enjoy eating it, and I have a lot of wonderful memories associated with picking and eating fruit.

Your kitchen is burning down. What’s the one thing you grab?

I’d say my cast iron pans, but I can’t think of anything heavier and more awkward to carry down three flights of stairs in a fire. So, more practically, my phone to call 911.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, by Deborah Madison. It’s where I go for inspiration whenever I’m in a cooking rut, and some of the recipes I make all the time and know by heart come from that book.

Can’t get enough of Dinah Grossman? Her magical tarts and other treats are available for delivery directly to your doorstep, and they’re only a click away at Cheap Tart Bakery in Chicago, Illinois.

Apple Tarte Tatin
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
You'll need an oven-safe pan for this recipe, so no plastic handles. Dinah prefers cast iron, but any sautée pan about 10" in diameter will work. The tart can be made using store-bought pastry, but if you're feeling ambitious you can make your own. Dinah does a riff on this recipe to get her amazing, flaky crust: http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/2005/10/roses_favorite_flaky_tender_pi.html.
  • 5-6 Golden Delicious apples or other firm apples that will hold their shape during cooking
  • 4 tbsp salted butter (Plugra and Kerrygold brands are both great quality, though any butter will do!)
  • 4 tbsp granulated sugar
  • pastry for one 9" pie shell (see headnote)
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425°F. Roll out your pastry and trim it to fit the size of the pan you will be using for the tart (see above note). It needn't be exact. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Peel, core, and quarter the apples.
  3. Heat the pan over medium heat and melt the butter. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the melted butter and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is a very pale amber. 
Off the heat, place the apple quarters in the pan radially starting on the outer edge of the pan and moving to the center, setting them on their sides and fitting in as many as possible. As they cook they'll shrink and you'll be able to push them closer together and fit in any remaining quarters.
  4. Return pan to the stovetop and cook over medium-high heat until the apples begin to turn a golden brown (about 15 minutes). You can lift one out of the pan to check the color on the bottom. At this point flip over each quarter so the cooked edge faces up and the uncooked edge is face down in the caramel. Continue to cook until the caramel that bubbles up between the apples pieces is a dark amber (10 more minutes, give or take). You can dip a teaspoon in and pull it out to see the color better.
  5. Remove your pastry from refrigerator. Cut 4 or 5 slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. 
Take the pan of the stovetop, and working quickly put the pastry over the hot apples and put into a 425°F oven until the pastry is golden brown (about twenty minutes). 
Remove pan from oven and immediately invert onto a cooling rack; you can place a rimmed cookie sheet under the cooling rack to catch any drips. Be very careful - use potholders!
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  • What beautiful story. Dinah’s tart tatin is really breath taking.

    • Kathryn

      Thanks, Jess! Dinah’s a great baker.

  • Eeek; cast iron pans would be hard to escape with in a fire!

    This tart is absolutely stunning! Definitely something I need to try.

    • Kathryn

      Haha, carrying cast iron pans in a fire = definitely not ideal! Keep me posted if you try the tart, Genevieve – it’s amazing!

  • Sarah

    Wow, the tart looks amazing! And so wonderful for Dinah to share the recipe with us.

    • Kathryn

      I agree – very generous of her!

  • oh my this looks terrific!!!

    • Kathryn

      Natalie — it tastes even better than it looks!

  • Thank you for introducing us to Dinah. This is really a wonderful post, and the tarte tatin looks beyond scrumptious. I’ve never made one, but will be sure to change that soon 🙂

    • Kathryn

      Thanks so much, Winnie! You’re going to LOVE it! 🙂

  • Simply gorgeous! I’ve been dying to make a tarte tatin…you may have inspired me to do so!

    • Kathryn

      Rachel, you won’t be disappointed! Promise.

  • That tarte tatin is absolutely stunning. Beautifully written post, too.

    • Kathryn

      Thanks so much for reading, Kate!

  • Hi Kathryn – this is such a beautiful website. I love reading the stories behind these recipes not to mention the beautiful photographs.

    I have never made Tarte Tatin before and I’m not even sure how to pronounce it 🙂 but I love to try this recipe someday when I have time.

    I especially love reading the story behind your grandma’s French Coconut Pie. What a sweet story.

    All the best to you!

    • Kathryn

      Esther, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to hear such incredible feedback. Thank you so, so much for the kind words. I’m looking forward to exploring your website some more, too!

  • Yes, I agree with Esther. I was just thinking about how I hope one day you put them all together in a book or something, but also, how I love being able to read them this way, one by one, and with so many pictures!

    • Kathryn

      Aw, thanks Jen! That would be a pretty cool thing to put together – definitely a thought to keep on the back burner.

  • You’re right. There is no better way to describe a well-made tarte tatin than “apple butter magic”. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have one of these on my kitchen counter right now.

  • Katherine

    wow. . . thank you so very much for sharing. I made this today and I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so proud of something I baked. 🙂 it’s delicious and very pretty.

    • Kathryn

      Katherine- You should be proud! It’s definitely an impressive dish and I’m glad to hear it turned out so well! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  • susie ross

    This looks wonderful ! Apples are my favorite but might try pears for my husband , will they work as well as the apples ?

    • Kathryn

      Susie, pears sound delicious and I think they would work fine here — something firm like Bosc or Anjou, and you’ll probably only need about 4 large ones. Peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise, and core them like you would the apples. Let me know how it goes! : )

  • susie ross

    Can’t wait to try this ? I love apples but would like to try with pears for my husband , do they turn out as well ?

  • […] It began simply enough with a plan to use blemished apples in a fancy dessert. Demonstrate how one could turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse…or throw-away apples into a simple, but fancy French delicacy. Apple Tarte Tatin. […]

  • Ha, just discovered your blog and I love it! I especially love your blog name 🙂

  • Jess Jo

    I just made this & it tasted great. The apple fell out of place when I inverted it though. 🙁

    My apples also looked a bit brown & burnt. Did I leave it on the stove for too long?

    • Kathryn

      Hi Jess–it can be hard to get the timing exactly right. The apples probably over-cooked slightly before they went in the oven, but I’m glad it still tasted good! This recipe definitely takes a bit of trial and error.

  • Dylan

    Does this dessert have to be served warm? I plan to make it for my French class tomorrow and was planning on making it the night before and simply refrigerating it.

    • Kathryn

      Nope, it’s just as wonderful at room temp. And don’t despair if it doesn’t look like the tart in the pictures–Dinah is a master at these and has been making them for YEARS. It took me a few tries to finally get it down. Good luck! 🙂

  • stevej

    Your writing is amazing. Found this on Gojee this morning. Love the Tatin, but now permanent fan of your work. You are awesome!

    • Kathryn

      Thanks so much, Steve! Glad to have you here.

  • Márcia Vicenzo Claro

    Hy Kathryn. I am from Brazil. i’m so glad to know your blog. Excuses for my english…but i had to speak, it’s amazing everithing you write. It seams that I stay by your side cooking and feel those tastes. Thank you so much!!

  • parvaneh

    hi…i cooked this apple tart , bat the sugar glaze in my apple became so hard and a little dark, but it didnt burn!plz give me a guidance!

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  • Pamela

    Great recipe! I increased the sugar to 2/3 cup as my apples were a bit tart. Tart was not too sweet with a great caramel taste. I used the pastry crust recipe as well and that came out great as well.

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  • Despina

    Hey 🙂 Thanks for the recipe, I habe been looking all over for a really good recipe for Tarte Tatin ever since I tried it in France (during a student exchange). I can’t find the recipe for the pie crust, can you help me out here?