We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
It's the peak of apple season in Yankeeland, and the best use for apples is Apple Pie and Tarte Tatin, which is sort of a semi-burned upside-down apple pie. Other than just eating one off the tree.
The Tarte Tatin was supposedly invented by mistake. I have tried to make them many times, but I can never get the hard crispy caramelization on the apples that I seek: I just get a browned upside-down apple pie - a gooey mush that sticks to the pan and makes for a mess of a presentation (but tastes good anyway).
Hard apples - not cooking apples, high heat and an iron skillet seem to be important. Some people seem to have no trouble getting it right, but I never do.
Here's a recipe. If you can make it right, it ain't too terribly bad with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on the side.
My chef friend advises making them with a basic Flan Pastry, aka Chef's Pastry. Chef claims that once you've had a good Tarte Tatin, you'll never go back to apple pie with its overdose of pastry.
High heat and reducing the liquid down to a thick syrup before adding the crust and putting it in the oven... may even need to bake it a few minutes before adding the crust. and you have to let it cool in the pan too cool for 30 minutes at least... 10 isn't enough
Regarding the prob, I think 'oceanguy' is on the right track when he talks of "high heat." My grandmother used to make a scratch chocolate cake with an icing that caramelized and got rock hard, and she paid lots of attention to the thermometer stuck in the icing pan. It had to get high enough, but not too high. Then, as 'oceanguy' said, she let it cool for a while -- but not too long -- before spreading it on the cake. My feeling is that the caramelization process has to start 'setting' before it can be put in place. If it's disturbed too soon, the chemical process is interrupted and you end up with a goopy -- if delicious -- mess.
Don't waste your time on fancy stuff requiring thermometers and such!
Make a gallette or crostata ("rustic") tart instead. Its far easier and tastes more of apples: just a crust with the edges folded up around a sliced apples with a brown(or cane) sugar, cinnamon and butter topping on the apples. Or use maple surple instead of sugar.
Non-Americans simply do not understand American pie at all - why take a flaky version of puff pastry and use it for a tart?
(and after living abroad I kinda see their point...)
Regarding tarte tatin -
1) I second the gallette/crostata suggestion, which saves some time. But I've had great tarte tatin where the dough was roughly patted out by had to a thick disc, so that's also easy.
2) Cut a circle of baking paper to fit the bottom of your skillet. Butter both sides. When the apples are done, empty the skillet and put this in, then assemble. I know this disrupts the single-pan goodness, but... it works.