Simply food


Who doesn’t love a freshly made tart, whether it is a sweet apple tart or a savoury onion tart, especially when they are upside down. What? You thought I meant something else?

First of the engaging series

Reading voraciously through the entire oeuvre of British author Martin Walker’s engaging detective series set in the Périgord Nord region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France, I discover more and more recipes I had quite forgotten. Walker’s detective Bruno’s adventures are interspersed with descriptions of meals prepared and shared, and often have enough recipe information for a cook to follow. I wrote about this genre of story recently in MIXING MYSTERY WITH FOOD, after a dear friend lent me the latest in the series. I enjoyed it so much I had to go back to the beginning and read them all in order. Now that I am back to where I started ‘Je suis tres désolé.’

Bruno’s Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from a French Country Kitchen is expected in November. A previous book was only published in German as Brunos Kochbuch: Rezepte und Geschichten aus dem Périgord. Another German book titled Menu surprise: Der elfte Fall für Bruno, Chef de police does not seem to be a cookbook, as far as my very limited grasp of the language can tell.

However, Bruno has his own blog and Walker was kind enough to share the recipe for façon Tatin aux oignons rouges. If I can only find my own recipe, I shall cook them both and see which version I prefer.

I have to dig through old boxes of recipe cards to find some of the stained remnants of previous experiments, but I finally come up with recipes for two of my favourites. I had also quite forgotten why the upside-down tarts are named Tatin. Research turned up the answer.

Caroline and Stéphanie Tatin

Two sisters named Tatin ran a hotel in the Loire valley in France in the 1880s. The best story is that the tart was discovered by accident when one of the sisters nearly burned a dish of apples in caramel, covered her mistake up with pastry, then baked it and turned it out upside down. Her guests loved it and it became a signature dish of the Hôtel Tatin.

However, the demoiselles never capitalized on their discovery and it was not named until the owner of Maxim’s, the famous Parisienne restaurant, tried it and was smitten. He wrote in a book: ‘I used to hunt around Lamotte-Beuvron in my youth and had discovered, in a very small hotel run by elderly ladies, a marvelous dessert … I brought the recipe back and put it on my menu under Tarte des demoiselles Tatin.’

Originally, tarte Tatin was made with apples but can also be made with pears, bananas, peaches or pineapple. Appetizer versions can be made with tomatoes or onions. Here’s my take on both sweet and savoury.


Upside down apple tart.

Shopping list

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1.5 kg (3-4) cooking apples, such as Granny Smith
  • 3 TBSP water
  • ½ cup sugar (100 g)
  • 3 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence


  • Vanilla ice cream

Preparation and cooking

  1. Defrost a sheet of frozen puff pastry. Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C. Peel, quarter and core apples. Cut the quarters in half again.
  2. Put the water in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat add the sugar and stir it in to dissolve it. In the early stages of making caramel, the sugar can easily crystalize out, especially if you stir the pot too much. At which point, chuck the mess away and start again. NOTE: Hot sugar is way hotter than boiling water and can result in nasty burns. Under no circumstances be tempted to taste the sauce until it is well cooled. Smart cooks keep a small bowl of iced water to one side to dip fingers in should they come in contact with a splash of hot sugar by accident. Here’s the trick: do not touch the pan for 10 mins. Cover and leave it alone except for an occasional swoosh around. Water from the lid runs down the inside of the pan and prevents the mixture sticking to the sides. However, if it does look like sticking, simply take a wet pastry brush and wipe it around the sides to release any stuck sauce. When it gets to a light amber colour, cut the butter into chunks and melt in, until the mixture is a light creamy brown.
  3. Add apples and vanilla and gently stir until the fruit is covered with caramel sauce. Continue to cook for 10 mins, stopping before the apples loose their shape, turning them frequently until all the caramel is off the bottom of the pan. NOTE: Do not let the caramel burn or the tart will taste bitter.
  4. Neatly place the apple slices tightly together on the bottom of a 9 in springform cake pan, in concentric circles. NOTE: remember the tart will be tipped out upside down. Pour any remaining caramel over the top.
  5. Lay puff pastry on top, cutting off the excess with a sharp knife. Push the outside edge of the pastry down the inside of the pan with a spatula. Poke some holes in top to let the steam escape. TIP: put the pan on a baking tray, in case of leakage.
  6. Bake for 45-50 mins, until the pastry is golden brown and firm. Leave on a rack for at least 1 hr to cool and set. Run a small knife around the inside of the pan to ensure the pastry doesn’t stick. Remove the rim of the pan., leaving the tart on the base. Cover the tart with a plate, tip upside down, then remove the base leaving the tart on the plate. Voila!
  7. Serve generous slices with vanilla ice cream.


Upside down red onion tart with Feta cheese.

Shopping list

  • 3-4 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 TBSP liquid honey
  • 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 7 oz / 200 g fresh goat cheese or feta
  • Salt and pepper
  • 9 oz / 250 g frozen puff pastry (defrosted)


  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs

Preparation and cooking

  1. Defrost a sheet of frozen puff pastry (approx 10 in by 10 in). Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C. Strip the leaves from 2 thyme stems and set aside. Crumble the goat cheese and set aside.
  2. Cut the onions into 8 wedges. Melt the butter in a in a frying pan, adding a splash of EVOO to prevent it burning. Add the onions and fry over a medium heat for about 5 mins, turning from time to time until just beginning to brown.
  3. Mix honey and balsamic vinegar, add to the pan and cook for a further 5 mins, moving and shaking the pan occasionally so the onions don’t stick.
  4. In a shallow round cake or quiche pan with a removable bottom, arrange the onions so they make a regular pattern. NOTE: remember the tart will be tipped out upside down. Pour over any excess sauce. Scatter the thyme leaves and season well. Arrange the crumbled goat cheese on top.
  5. Lay puff pastry on top, cutting off the excess with a sharp knife. Push the outside edge of the pastry down the inside of the pan with a spatula. Poke some holes in top to let the steam escape.
  6. Bake for 45 – 50 mins, until the pastry is golden brown and firm. Let stand for 5 mins. Run a small knife around the inside of the pan to ensure the pastry doesn’t stick. Cover the pan with a plate, tip upside down, then remove the pan leaving the tart on the plate.
  7. Garnish decoratively with remaining sprigs of thyme. Serve warm, with a side of green salad.

The Tarte Tatin was the last dish I cooked in our Toronto kitchen, right in the middle of packing up a four-storey townhouse. My next blog will come from our new single-storey home in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Several friends dropped by during the course of the afternoon and by the end of the day, all the tart had been consumed, by which I take it to have been judged delicious, especially by those who had it with vanilla ice cream — and one pirate who went back for thirds.

Featured image: Upside down red onion tart with Feta cheese (Nigel Napier-Andrews photo)

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2 replies »

  1. Dear Nigel, I dont think you will remember me, but I have recently spent some time in Vancouver with the Murgatroyds and we were recollecting times at CFTO. Not sure how we met you. I wondered if you could tell me if Elsa Franklin is still alive. I worked as her researcher on the pB Show for a year or two with Judy Ross as my co researcher. I would love to know as I see Bill Freedman died aged 93 and I remember meeting him with Elsa. All so long ago. Kind regards Helen Cunningham (nee Jackson)


    • Dear Helen

      I remember Susan Murgatroyd from when I moved into 44 Jacques Avenue in 1966! She lent me a corkscrew and I never forgot her kindness in making me feel welcome in Canada. It helped that our offices were both in the same CBC building, at least I think she worked at CBC TV back then. But after I left that eminent organization I lost touch with her. I too worked with Elsa on many projects, including directing Pierre’s Heritage Theatre in the mid-80s. I haven’t seen her much during Covid, but we did drop by her house for an outdoor glass of wine in the summer. As far as I know she is still with us and I am sure I would have heard otherwise, through her daughter Jody, whom I also worked with. should reach her.

      Do stay in touch: best contact is



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