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Twice now, I've made the "Ultimate Tarte Tatin" recipe from the Food Network site. In both cases, the crust and apples worked out perfectly.

And in both cases, the caramel seemed to come together before adding the apples, but never really firmed up and remained a thin liquid throughout the cooking process and afterwards. Tasty, but not really caramel at all, and not a successful pie.

The caramel is 3/4 cup sugar + 2 tbsp water, and 1/2 stick butter. The instructions are brief, probably fine if you know what you're doing. I'm a caramel novice.

Any suggestions on better or more specific ratios, or more-foolproof techniques, would be appreciated.

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When you say the caramel seemed to come together, do you mean it turned rich brown (as you'd expect of caramel?) If not, you need to cook it longer. –  derobert Sep 14 '12 at 14:50
    
Look what the cat brought in today. –  BaffledCook Sep 14 '12 at 17:31
    
It did turn what seemed to me to be a rich brown; but since I have yet to achieve a successful caramel, I may be looking for the wrong thing. –  Paul Roub Sep 14 '12 at 21:11
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2 Answers

I like the recipe from Gourmet magazine because I don't have to try to stand apples up in hot caramel. It uses the same amount of butter, less sugar, and no water. Works for me every time.

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The viscosity of the caramel could also vary with the type of apples used. Apples with high water content will dilute the caramel more when your pie cooks. Unfortunately I have no facts regarding water contents of different varieties of apple.

Yet another variable is the age of the apples. Newly picked apples will contain more water than if they have been sitting in the store or in a warehouse for weeks/months. Apples keep for a long time if stored properly. Eventually they wrinkle and will then contain considerably less water than when they were fresh.

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If the apples are put into the caramel so that their juice mixes with it, then we have the explanations. You are correct that liquid added after the caramel is formed will affect the viscosity; but more important, acid softens caramel. If the apple juice is acidic enough, it will keep the caramel liquid. –  rumtscho Sep 14 '12 at 16:09
    
interesting: I typically make tarte tatin when I have too many apples and some are getting wrinkly. Maybe that's part of why it always works? –  Kate Gregory Sep 14 '12 at 22:18
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