The ideal dessert is fancy enough to feel special while remaining as low-effort — and delicious — as humanly possible. This year, more than ever, you deserve freedom from complicated recipes that yield underwhelming results. You deserve a cranberry tarte tatin.
As the name suggests, this festive dessert features whole cranberries and buttery caramel, covered with puff pastry and baked. If that combination sounds wacky, trust me: It works. The ultra-tart cranberry juices offset the sugary caramel to the point that the first bite barely registers as sweet. You still get sweetness, of course, but it’s so much richer and more complex than you’d expect from mixing nature’s Warheads with a heap of melted sugar. Describing desserts as “grown-up” always strikes me as snobby and uninformative, but this is a rare exception. With a perfectly balanced, sweet-tart-bitter flavour profile and stunning presentation — get a load of that gorgeous sauce! — cranberry tarte tatin is a grown-up, downright elegant addition to your Thanksgiving table.
It’s also unbelievably simple. If you have sugar, butter, and salt on hand, you just need to buy frozen puff pastry and whole cranberries. There’s none of the peeling, coring, par-cooking, and general fussing associated with a traditional apple tarte tatin, either. Once you’ve nailed a simple caramel — which I promise you will — the rest of the recipe is pure assembly.
Before you run away screaming, let’s talk about that caramel. If your prior efforts have all ended in crusty, crystallised disaster, it’s not you — it’s the water. Most caramel recipes aimed at beginners are “wet,” which means they add a small amount of water to the sugar before cooking. This is supposed to help the sugar dissolve and cook evenly — but if the water boils before the sugar has completely dissolved, it crystallises. If you’re trying to dissolve a pile of sugar in a literal splash of water, this is very easy to do.
Dry caramel is almost impossible to mess up. You dump sugar into a dry pan and cook it over moderate heat until it liquefies and caramelises. There’s no water involved, so you don’t have to worry about the sugar dissolving — it just has to melt, which it does all on its own. Dry caramel will not crystallise no matter how much you stir it, and it won’t scorch unless you whack up the heat like a real ding-dong. (Don’t be a ding-dong.) It’s the only way I make caramel now. Give it a shot, and you’ll be converted, too.
Cranberry tarte tatin
Before you get started, double check that you own a plate or platter big enough to invert the tart onto. As written, this recipe fits perfectly in an eight- or nine-inch stainless steel, cast iron, or oven-safe nonstick pan. If your pan is in the 25-30cm inch range, double everything except the puff pastry.
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 3 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, cold from the fridge
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 4-5 cups cranberries, thawed if frozen
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
- Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, to serve
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. If you forgot to thaw your puff pastry, pop it in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds and set it on the counter while you prepare the caramel.
To make the caramel, pour one cup of the sugar in an eight- or nine-inch oven-safe pan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula or metal spoon to break up any clumps, until you have a pan full of golden yellow liquid sugar. This should take about five minutes, but the exact timing will depend on your stove and pan.
When the sugar is fully melted, reduce the heat to low and cook until the caramel is darkened to your preference. (The longer it cooks, the less sweet it’ll be: I love the bitter edge of almost-burnt caramel, but aim for a lighter brown if you prefer more sweetness.) Pull the caramel off the heat when it’s a few shades too light; it will keep cooking in the residual heat.
Immediately stir in the cold butter. It will bubble dramatically, so watch your fingers. When the butter is fully incorporated, carefully stir in the water, again minding the splatter. Finally, stir in the salt. Swirl the hot caramel around to coat the sides of the pan, pour in the cranberries, and press down gently with a spoon. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar over the top.
Unfold the puff pastry and lay it over the berries. Carefully tuck the corners and any overhanging edges into the pan, which will still be quite hot. Place the pan on a larger sheet pan, transfer to the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes. The pastry should be dramatically puffed and golden brown, and the fruit should be bubbling away beneath.
Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before inverting onto a serving platter. Scrape any caramel left in the pan over the top. Serve immediately with plenty of ice cream or whipped cream — or a little of both.