The creation of the original tarte Tatin is something of an urban legend, was it a happy accident, a stroke of culinary genius, or the reinvention of an ages-old dish? The traditional story starts with the Tatin sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline, who owned a local hotel in the small French town of Lamotte-Beuvron. It is said that Stéphanie made a mistake with a traditional apple tart recipe in the kitchen, but even here the specifics differ from tale to tale. Some say she left apples cooking in a pan on the stove for too long and they started to burn, so she threw a disc of pastry over the top in the hope of rescuing the dish, and chucked it into the oven to bake. Another version claims that, rushed by a busy service and desperate to produce a pudding, she threw a pan of apples into the oven with a pastry lid, not realising the pie didn’t have a pastry bottom. In whichever variant you believe, it supposedly resulted in an upside-down tart with the apples on top that the diners subsequently loved.
Not alone in the world of kitchen mishaps, some of our favourite foods have been created by similar mistakes. Two classic British desserts, Bakewell tart and Eton Mess, have similarly colourful histories. The original Bakewell pudding was supposedly created when a cook in the early 1800s misinterpreted a jam tart recipe from her landlady and topped the jam with an almond sponge. Stories for Eton Mess range from the original meringue dessert being dropped in the school kitchens, or the schoolboys mushing up their desserts when they ate them, to (my personal favourite) a labrador sitting on a picnic basket containing a pavlova during a school event. Chocolate chip cookies were apparently the result of an experiment to create chocolate biscuits, as the cook expected the chunks of chocolate to melt throughout the dough when cooked. Crisps were purportedly the revenge of a chef whose customers complained his potato chips were too thick, so he tried to bake inedible thin discs to spite them… and so on.