After months of deadlines, I had a breather this past week for goofing around in the kitchen. Having succeeded with the fried apple spring rolls – a tasty exercise in mutant cooking of sorts – I decided to try a nontraditional approach to making tart tatin, a classic French upside-down fruit tart, typically made with apples. At a professional food conference this summer, I watched the legendary Jacques Pepin tweak an apple charlotte by cooking it in a skillet and putting the bread on top instead lining the pan with it; for serving, the result was inverted like a tatin. He'd crossed the charlotte with the tatin, said to be created by two sisters in in 1898.
Since a tart tatin required caramelizing the apples stovetop followed by covering them with a pastry crust and baking, why couldn’t I substitute slices of white bread for the crust? I suppose you could think of that approach as a Franco-Viet tart tatin. Imagine a resourceful cook in Vietnam not having enough butter for cooking the apples and making the pastry. Perhaps she or he would reach for a few slices of banh mi to fudge the dough? In Vietnamese, banh mi refers to both bread and sandwich. Baguette and sliced white bread are both types of banh mi to Vietnamese people.
I had plenty of butter and flour for the pastry but frankly was feeling a little lazy about making dough, and also was very curious about how the bread would function as a crust. I also had these fears: What if the whole thing fell apart when I inverted the pan? What if the bread didn’t stick to the fruit or crisp up? What if the tart looked ugly or worse, tasted bad?