Eat IN BED: Apple Tarte Tatin with Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes

Words by Elisha Kennedy

Images by Ho Hai Tran

As a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, Claire Ptak knows how to do her sweets, seasonally. Moving to England from the US, she started her own business in the form of a market stall at Broadway market in the heart of Hackney. In the early days she baked from her own home kitchen, before she made the move to open her small bakery, Violet, in East London in 2010.

Her bakery has become a much-loved institution here, a warm and relaxed space in which one can easily settle down for a sweet and a cup of something steaming. People come a long way to Violet to sample the cakes, cookies or pastries - all made with high-quality, organic ingredients and frequently found adorned in lavish swirls of buttercream icings.

I try to foster a place where people can be creatively inspired as well as focused. All the while the smells of freshly baked creations fill the room. It's kinda dreamy, Claire tells us.

"I wanted a place where people can come for excellent coffee and cakes any time of day they like, from 8am to 6pm" Claire tells us. "The kitchen is wide open because we want people to see what we are doing. And upstairs we have a wide light-filled space which is great to work out of."


"For Autumn, I can't go past apples - I love the architecture of a tarte tatin. The way the apples, when cut perfectly, create such a beautiful pattern. I also love the caramel of course."

For Autumn, I can't go past apples - I love the architecture of a tarte tatin. The way the apples, when cut perfectly, create such a beautiful pattern. I also love the caramel of course.
"In England we have a variety of apple called Crimson Crisp. It's a great eating apple with a good texture and a nice acidity to the flavour. Look for a good sized apple too. Teensy apples don't have enough structure for this recipe. Likewise you shouldn't use a cooking apple as they will turn to sauce when baked and for this, the apples need to keep their shape." "This is a great tarte for any time of day. It makes a sensational dessert after dinner but it is delicious with tea in the afternoon. Leftovers for breakfast with coffee would be pretty fantastic too."

Apple Tarte Tatin with Pink Peppercorns

Serves 6-8


3 tbsp butter

135g caster sugar

10-12 large apples peeled, cored and quartered

tsp pink peppercorns, roughly ground

500g puff pastry, rolled into a 26cm circle and chilled

For the sauce

200g sugar

2 tbsp water

100ml apple juice

25g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm pieces

Salt and brandy or calvados, to taste (optional)

Creme fraiche, to serve

Rough puff pastry

Makes around 1kg

500g butter

190ml ice cold water

1 tsp lemon juice

280g plain flour

100g bread flour

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

  1. Cut the butter into 2cm cubes and arrange them on a baking sheet. Freeze. Add the lemon juice to the water and keep in the fridge.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine both flours with the salt. Add the chilled butter on a low speed and mix to knock off the corners of the cubes.
  3. With the mixer running, drizzle in the water and lemon juice mixture until it just comes together as a raggedy dough.
  4. Lay a piece of parchment on your work surface, and turn the dough out on to it. Shape the dough into a block. Roll to 38 x 25cm. Fold in thirds, like a letter, make an impression with your thumb on the top, cover loosely with clingfilm and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 more times (5 in total), resting for 20 minutes in between each roll and fold.
  5. After the fifth turn, divide the dough into two blocks. Use right away or freeze until needed.


Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Have ready an ice-water bath large enough for a 25cm cast iron frying pan or copper tatin mould. Caramelise 2 tbsp butter and 6 tbsp of sugar over a high heat, swirling the pan now and then. Once the sugar has dissolved, use a wooden spoon or balloon whisk to bring it all together. Do not worry if it splits or crystallises, as it will dissolve again during the baking process. You want a deep, dark caramel. Remove from the heat and immediately put the pan on the ice water to stop the caramel from colouring any further. Arrange the apples, bearing in mind they will be upside down when done, so arrange them as you please. I place the curved side down into the caramel, cored side-up. Place a second layer of apples on top, cored-side down, and press gently with your hands coaxing them to fit together like a puzzle. Sprinkle the ground peppercorns over the top. Cover with the disc of rolled, chilled pastry, tucking the edges in between the apples and the pan. Melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter and brush the pastry with it. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tbsp sugar, then pierce several times with a knife to allow steam to escape during baking. Bake the tarte tatin for 45-55 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden, the sugar has started to caramelise on top, and the apple beneath is starting to bubble up at the edges. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Add the sugar and water to a heavy-based pan and cook over a medium heat until dissolved, swirling the pan gently, without stirring. Once dissolved, raise the heat to high and caramelise. Have your apple juice ready. Once the caramel is a dark amber colour, remove from the heat immediately and stop the cooking by carefully pouring in the apple juice and whisking. Drop in the butter, and whisk until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add a little salt or 1 tbsp apple brandy, if you like. Remove from the oven and allow the tart to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Have ready a large plate that will completely cover the top of the tarte tatin. Using extreme caution, place the plate over the pan and, using an oven glove or tea towel wrapped around the outside, quickly flip the pan over and turn the tart out on to the plate in one smooth motion, being cautious of any hot liquid or steam that might escape. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and the apple caramel sauce poured over the top.

See more from Claire & Violet Cakes here.