- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

When French women (or men, for that matter) entertain, they often buy dessert. They refuse to spend hours laboring over a fancy cake, a complicated tart or a batch of macaroons, all of which can easily be purchased from local pastry shops.

Yet these cooks are willing — even enthusiastic — to whip up simple, homey confections such as creme caramel, chocolate mousse and rustic tarts.

Take, for example, the celebrated French dessert known as tarte Tatin, a delectable upside-down apple tart, which my Parisian friends consider easy enough to produce in their own kitchens.

I couldn’t agree more, and recently I created a new version of this classic.

In the original — which was made famous at the beginning of the 20th century by two sisters named Tatin who lived in the Loire Valley — the dish is prepared by sauteing sliced apples in butter and sugar in a skillet, then topping them with pastry.

Baked until the sugar-butter mixture caramelizes and the pastry becomes golden, the tart is inverted when served so that the crust is on the bottom.

Sliced pears and peaches are common substitutes for the apples, but for my variation, I start with bananas. Although a typical tarte Tatin is made with a short dough prepared with butter, sugar and flour, I have used purchased puff pastry for convenience.

For my banana tarte Tatin, I make a caramel sauce in a heavy, ovenproof skillet and add sliced bananas, minced ginger root and a splash of dark rum. The fruit mixture is topped with a round of puff pastry, then baked until the pastry is a rich brown and has risen.

Cooled slightly, then inverted onto a serving plate, the dessert can be served warm or at room temperature. Delicious when paired with scoops of vanilla ice cream or mounds of softly whipped cream, it makes a perfect finale for a hearty menu, or it can stand on its own, partnered with cups of steaming coffee.

This new rendition of an old French favorite is as tempting as the original. Maybe I should send the recipe to my friends in Paris.

Banana-ginger tarte Tatin

Flour for dusting work area

1 sheet puff pastry from 17.3-ounce package (see note)

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

2 teaspoons dark rum

4 ripe but not soft bananas, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

2 teaspoons ginger root, peeled and very finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten for glaze

1 pint vanilla ice cream or 1 cup heavy cream, softly whipped, for garnish

Arrange a rack at center position, and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Have ready a heavy, ovenproof 9-inch-diameter skillet with sloping sides. The skillet should be at least 13/4 inches deep.

On a floured work surface, roll puff-pastry sheet into 10½-inch square. Using a 10-inch plate or a 10-inch tart or cake pan as a guide, cut a 10-inch round from the pastry sheet. Transfer pastry round to a baking sheet; refrigerate 20 minutes to firm.

Place sugar and 1/4 cup water in skillet set over medium-high heat. Stir just until sugar has dissolved, then do not stir again.

Bring mixture to a boil and cook until liquid starts to turn a rich amber caramel color, 8 to 10 minutes. Once liquid starts to brown, the color will deepen in seconds, so watch carefully.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in butter and rum. Then gently stir in bananas and ginger root.

Do not worry if the caramel sauce seems to be hardening and is difficult to stir. When baked, the sauce will liquefy. Place the chilled pastry round over the bananas and brush it with beaten egg.

Bake on center rack of preheated 425-degree oven until pastry is crisp and golden brown and has risen, about 20 minutes. Remove tart and cool at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes.

Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the pastry. Using mitts to hold onto the hot pan, invert tart onto a serving plate.

The tart can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut tart into 6 slices; serve each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some softly whipped cream. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, sold in 17.3-ounce packages, contains two 9-by-93/4-inch puff pastry sheets.

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