It does make me laugh when people go on about “super foods”. I mean, surely all fruit and vegetables are good for you, aren’t they? What makes a blueberry so much better for you than say a carrot? Or some nice runner beans? We fork out for fancy pomegranate seeds and goji berries, when you can get just as many health benefits from the humble apple, and for a fraction of the price, at that. From perfumed crunch, to complex tartness and rich vanilla scented flesh, the varieties and nuances of this most English of fruits run deep and wide. These shores have borne countless breeds that have been sadly aborted in favour of a few sickly sweet, mushy types and we continue regardless to import our bland, flawless varieties.
As you might imagine, Raymond Blanc is rather picky about the ingredients used in his name. At Le Manoir they have a bulging folder recording each ingredient used in every dish, and the rigorous tests undergone before they’re allowed anywhere near a menu. He shows us an apple information chart with over fifty varieties of the fruit, and tells us how he is planning to plant an orchard to reintroduce many of the varieties that have been lost and trampled underfoot in the march of the supermarket giants. There certainly won’t be any stepford apples in his orchard.
We make a tarte tatin with Raymond and Mark Peregrine, the head tutor at his cookery school and every detail, even the dish they use is perfect for the job. The Emile Henry is from Burgundy (Raymond’s hometown) and uses a dense, pure clay with low porosity. This means it can withstand going from extremes of hot to cold on the hob and in the oven without cracking. Having experimented with tin, copper and cast iron he’s found this to be the most foolproof. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a low heat conductor means that the caramel stays dark but doesn’t burn. I’ve been to a few cookery classes and this was easily the best, namely because it was so informative without being patronising or preachy, incredibly hands on and because Raymond’s passion for perfection is so apparent. Despite being on crutches, he hobbled around the kitchen full of energy and infectious enthusiasm. Like all the best ones, the recipe appeared to be deceptively simple yet every element needed to be absolutely spot on for it to come together. The tatin was of course delicious, even more so the next day with a cup of tea for a very naughty breakfast, and so much better for me spiritually than any pretentious bowl of nonsense could ever be.
900g (about 6) Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and quartered
100 g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, diced
30g unsalted butter, melted
300g all butter puff pastry rolled to a 24cm circle, approximately 3mm thick, lightly pricked with a fork
- Pre heat oven to 180C. Place the tatin dish on the hob and heat the sugar.
- Once it’s turned to a dark caramel add the butter
- Arrange the apple quarters around the edges first, with the core facing up and towards the centre, then fill in the middle part of the mould the same way, press gently to ensure there are no gaps and brush with the melted butter.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and place the disc of puff pastry on top, tuck in the edges and with a knife prick a few holes in the top to allow some of the steam out.
- Cook in the oven for a further 40-45 minutes until the puff pastry is golden brown and crisp.
- Allow to cool at room temperature for about an hour before inverting and serving.