A good fall: France’s favorite dessert, the Tarte Tatin – Reise

“Le pays de la Tarte Tatin”, the land of the Tarte Tatin – that’s what it says in large letters at the Lamotte-Beuvron train station. How can you name an entire area after a cake? But the French have always had special habits when it comes to food. And a tarte tatin is not just any cake – although one would have to correctly speak of a dessert because the French include a tart with desserts – but a national matter. Every French housewife knows how to cook it, and hardly a bistro can afford not to have this tart on the menu from time to time.

The delicacy is said to have been invented in Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne, directly opposite the train station, in the Hotel Tatin, which is now called La Maison Tatin. Here is still the oven, richly decorated with blue and white tiles, on which the sisters Stéphanie (Fanny) and Caroline Tatin prepared their first apple tart, which was still nameless at the time, using a very special method: at the bottom the topping, above the dough base, a kind of upside down tart. Exactly a hundred years ago, the sisters had already died, their recipe, which was initially passed down orally, was first published by the local historian Paul Besnard under the name “Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin” and began its triumphant advance.

The Sologne, cradle of the Tarte Tatin, is a little-known area in the heart of France, in a triangle formed by the Loire and Cher rivers. The provincial town of Lamotte-Beuvron in the heart of the region is certainly not a place that attracts the tourist crowds. They are attracted in droves to the nearby Loire castles, which are often not located directly on the Loire, but a few kilometers from the river in the hinterland of the Sologne, the former hunting ground of the French kings. The most magnificent and largest, Chambord, is still surrounded today by a huge wildlife park enclosed by a 32-kilometer wall.

Portrait of the sisters Stephanie 1838 1917 and Caroline Tatin 1847 1911 who invented the dessert f

Portrait of the sisters Stéphanie (1838-1917) and Caroline Tatin (1847-1911), to whom the overturned tarte Tatin is ascribed. However, there are many legends surrounding how it was created.

(Foto: imago stock&people/Leemage)

Even in the time of the Tatin sisters, the Sologne was a popular destination for hunting tourists from Paris. You could easily reach Lamotte-Beuvron with the Orleans-Vierzon railway line, which runs directly past the place. Today there is also a motorway connection, which makes Lamotte a centrally located, less crowded base for excursions to Orleans, Blois, Tours and other destinations in this region, which is so richly blessed with cultural treasures, the much-vaunted “Garden of France”. Chambord with its 800 capitals and 365 chimneys and a double spiral staircase, probably designed by Leonardo da Vinci, is a “must” for all Loire travelers. Things are a little less turbulent in Cheverny Castle, which, unlike Chambord, has an almost completely preserved interior and also has a pack of hunting dogs of more than a hundred animals, with that of the castle owner, the Marquis de Vibraye, every autumn and winter (frowned upon in Germany for animal welfare reasons) hunted deer.

A few kilometers away is Chenonceau Castle, which connoisseurs consider the most beautiful of all, because it is built like a bridge over the Cher, on the right bank of which the lovely town of Montrichard with its old half-timbered houses extends a few kilometers upstream many villages of the Sologne. With their more filigree beam constructions, they are reminiscent of English residential architecture from the Middle Ages and the early modern period and differ markedly from the more massive half-timbered houses in Germany or Alsace. The sparsely populated Sologne with its more than 3000 ponds and extensively used forest, swamp and heathland landscapes is also a natural paradise that is best explored by bike on the mostly little-traveled roads. There are six “themed houses” spread across the region, where you can find out about the history and ecology of the lakes, the “secrets of the deer” and the illegal poaching practice that was once widespread in the wild Sologne.

Press photo Hotel Tatin

The former Hotel Tatin, which is now called La Maison Tatin, is located in Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne.

(Photo: Billon Sebastien)

Back to Lamotte-Beuvron, where on a Sunday morning the contemplative and somewhat sluggish life of the French provinces unfolds. There are a handful of boulangeries and patisseries in the small town that recommend their guests with an original tarte tatin. In what is said to be the best pastry shop in town, it is made with puff pastry. It tastes great and is not that difficult, but the original recipe actually calls for a “pâte brisée”, a sweet, buttery shortcrust pastry. “There are countless variations of the tart,” says Olaf Pezard, the young head chef at Maison Tatin, who claims to preserve the tradition of the tart in its original form.

In Brittany, for example, the dough is made with salty butter, says Pezard. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is often served with it. “But actually you enjoy the tart neat.” In any case, it is sweet enough, because to make a tarte tatin apples must first be braised in plenty of butter caramel before they are covered with a shortcrust pastry base that is not too thinly rolled out. Actually, it is not difficult to bake such a tart, says the cook. “There is only one tricky moment, namely when you topple the tart. You have to wear gloves because the red-hot caramel can run out.” Pezard is a veteran, he says he makes up to fifteen pieces a day.

According to legend, the tarte tatin was a product of chance

After numerous changes of ownership, Maison Tatin has recently been owned by a regional investor group. The Hotel Tatin, built in 1894 in the Belle Époque style, has been extensively renovated and has unfortunately lost its patina. The famous stove is now part of the reception area, where the staff practice their routine courtesy. With Caroline Tatin, Stéphanie’s granddaughter, who died in 1941, the Lamotte-based branch of the family died out. It is no longer particularly familiar here.

According to legend, the tarte tatin was a product of chance. Stéphanie Tatin is said to have chatted to an elegant customer and then had to hurry to prepare a dessert for the daily menu. She hastily tossed a few peeled apples into a tin, added butter and sugar, and pushed the jar into the oven. When she noticed that she had forgotten the batter, it was too late: the half-raw, lightly caramelized apples could not be served as a compote, and certainly not as a cake. Then Stéphanie decided to put the dough on the apples afterwards and then finish baking the whole thing. When she finally threw the tart onto a plate, the smell is said to have been so overwhelming that the guests went up in praise and asked for the dish again and again from now on.

There are many fairy tales about the origin of gastronomic specialties, and champagne is said to have been invented “by mistake” by the blind Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, which cannot be proven historically. In the case of the Tarte Tatin, the historian Henri Delétang, author of the booklet “La Tarte Tatin. Histoire et légends” convincingly demonstrated that the beautiful story was only circulated a few decades ago by the Confrérie des Lichonneux de tarte tatin, an association founded in 1979 with the aim of making their region even better known as the cradle of a national specialty. In 2018, the Confrérie organized the preparation of the largest tarte tatin in the world, which was included in the “Guinness Book of Records” with a weight of 308 kilograms.

Wolfram Siebeck’s judgment was devastating

There is another legend about the tart and it is just as dubious as the myth of its origin. It is about Louis Vaudable, the famous Parisian restaurateur, owner of Maxim’s restaurant, who is said to have sneaked into the kitchen of the Demoiselles Tatin under a false name to spy on the recipe for the legendary tart. Vaudable was born in 1902, the sisters died in 1911 and 1917; in 1906 they had already sold their successful establishment to retire. “It is very doubtful whether Vaudable would have gotten to know the sisters, even if he had come to the Sologne to hunt at a very young age,” writes Delétang smugly. In the 1970s, gourmet critic Wolfram Siebeck once tried a tarte tatin at Maxim’s. His judgment was devastating: “Finally, the dessert, the tarte tatin, a huge piece of warm apple pie, is crusted with caramel that is far too thick and far too hard, the apples of the bland variety from the supermarket.”

Incidentally, as is so often the case, the truth about the invention of the tart is far more prosaic than the beautiful legends. It is possible that Stéphanie Tatin did not invent the upside down principle herself, but was told the original recipe by the cook of an aristocrat who lived nearby. The historian Delétang suspects that she could only have developed it further and made it known. The triumphant advance of the tarte tatin would once again be owed, above all, to good marketing.


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