Since Pi Day falls on a Sunday this year, it means we’re required to celebrate it all weekend long. I know it feels like a big ask, but both edible and numerical pi(e) enrich our lives in so many wonderful ways and deserve as much fêting as our bodies can handle. I’m going to be eating Chicken Parm Pot Pie for lunch, Beef Wellington Pot Pie for dinner, Oatmeal Cream Pie for snack time, the four-fruit behemoth that is 3.14 Pie for dessert, and shall be starting my days feasting on warm slices of this buttermilk biscuit tarte tatin, the true breakfast of champions.
Classic tarte tatin has a reputation of being difficult to make, even though in reality it’s quite simple: make caramel in a skillet, top with apples and pastry dough, bake, invert, enjoy. So why the bad rap? Because it’s impossible to know what a finished tarte tatin will look like until it’s flipped out of the pan just before serving, and if you’re inclined to compare your tarte of good faith to the professionally photographed ones on the internet, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be disappointed. This sort of thinking is silly and should be stopped at once. Who cares if your apples aren’t arranged in perfectly concentric circles or if they caramelize unevenly? So what if the crust gets a bit soggy or your tart doesn’t come out of the pan in one piece? Even in the worst-case scenario, you’re still eating caramel, apples, and buttery pastry, so please do not deprive yourself of tarte tatin out of fear. You deserve better.
To turn tarte tatin into a perfectly cromulent breakfast food, I enrich my caramel with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, which is definitely worth splurging on for a fancy breakfast feast like this one. For the crust, I make a massive, ultra-flaky buttermilk biscuit that ends up crisp and buttery on the bottom, dripping with hot caramel apple goodness on top. I like serving it with a dollop of tangy yogurt on top to cut through all the sweetness, and also to help legitimize it as part of a balanced breakfast. If you want to top yours with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream instead, go for it. Pi Day is a very special occasion.
If you’d like to get breakfast to the table quicker, prep the apples and biscuit dough the night before, then in the morning you can make the caramel, assemble, and bake. This recipe will work in all sizes of cast iron skillet, though you’ll probably need to adjust cooking time. The cooking times given are for a 12-inch skillet. For larger skillets, add 5-10 minutes. For smaller ones, reduce times by 5 minutes.
- 3 lbs. firm cooking apples (I like Granny Smiths for their tartness, but Honeycrisps, Fujis, and Golden Delicious are all great options)
- 2 sticks (1 cup) frozen butter
- 450 grams (about 3 2/3 cups) flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 3/4 cup full-fat buttermilk, or 1 cup milk mixed with 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, unpacked
- 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1/3 cup maple syrup (preferably bourbon barrel aged if you can find it)
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into large pieces
Peel, quarter, and core the apples; refrigerate in a large, uncovered container for to dry out a bit for at least 30 minutes. (Do not worry about the apples turning brown; it does not matter at all.)
Using a fork, lightly mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in a mixing bowl. Grate the two sticks of frozen butter directly into the bowl using the large-holed side of a cheese grater; toss with the fork until all the butter is well-coated in the flour mixture. In a large measuring cup, stir the buttermilk (or milk+sour cream) with the brown sugar and salt, then pour into the dry ingredients and gently stir with the fork until just combined.
Lay two large overlapping sheets of plastic wrap out on your countertop to make a square a bit larger than 2 feet wide, then plop the dough out into the center. Use your hands to gently bring the dough together into a shaggy, cohesive mass, working quickly as to not melt the butter. (This does not need to be pretty, so don’t overthink it!) Pat the dough into a rough square about 2" thick, then use a sharp knife to cut it into four relatively even quadrants. Stack the four pieces on top of each other, putting any errant crumbles of dough in between the layers; with your hands, gently pat and shape the dough into a large disc. Using the top of your cast iron skillet as a guide, roll out the biscuit until it’s at least 1" wider than the pan on all sides. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, transfer to a sheet pan or large piece of cardboard, then put into the freezer to chill for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
Put a sheet pan on an oven rack set to the lowest position, then begin preheating the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a cast iron skillet over high heat, cook the sugar and water together, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes until it turns a rich caramel color. (If you believe you’ll have difficulty judging the color in such a pan, keep a small white plate nearby to hold your spoon against.) Once the desired shade of brown is reached, remove the pan from the heat, add the maple syrup, salt, and butter, and stir until melted. Add the apples, stir gently until fully coated in caramel, then use a pair of forks to arrange the apples around the pan, cut-side-up and partially overlapping. (Aesthetics aren’t important, but the apples will shrink slightly while cooking, so take care as to not create any massive gaps.)
Remove the biscuit dough from the freezer, unwrap, and place directly on top of the apples, tucking the edges into the sides of the pan and patting down to ensure full contact with the filling. Place onto the hot sheet pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center of the biscuit pulls out cleanly. Let the tart set for at least 5 minutes, then invert it onto a sheet pan. If you’d like the top to be a bit browner, slide the tarte tatin under the broiler for a few minutes until it caramelizes to your liking. Otherwise, transfer to cutting board and serve immediately.