During her lifetime – she passed away in 1998 – French food writer Ginette Mathiot published more than 30 cookbooks, and through them famously taught generations of French people how to cook their country’s cuisine.

Classic French Recipes is a new compendium of 170 of Mathiot’s most important recipes, accompanied by new photography to inspire your next dinner party menu. It does what it says on the tin: all the Gallic classics are there, from onion soup gratin to eggs in meurette sauce, crème brûlée and the below tarte tatin. The book also busts the myth that classic French food needs to be overly complicated or time-consuming – in fact, this dessert takes just over an hour to make. Très bien.

“Caroline and Stéphanie Tatin ran a hotel in Sologne, a beautiful hunting area south of Paris,” wrote Mathiot of this dish. “The sisters are often considered to be the inventors of this famous tart. The story goes that in 1899 one of them, in a hurry while preparing a meal for hunters, shoved apples in the oven, forgetting to include the usual pastry underneath, which she added on top later, thus creating a delicious tart in which the apples caramelise under the lid of the pastry. This type of upside-down tart may have existed before that, but tarte tatin wouldn’t have become such a French classic without the culinary mishap story and pretty name.”

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Ginette Mathiot’s tarte tatin

Serves 6
Preparation time: 1 hour, plus resting time
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Double cream, to serve (optional)

Shortcrust pastry
2 1/4 cups (250g) plain flour, plus extra for rolling
1 tbsp flavourless oil, such as sunflower or canola
1/2 tsp salt
9 tbsp (125g) butter, chilled and diced
4–6 tbsp ice-cold water

1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar

500g apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 5 cups sliced)
2 tbsp (25g) caster sugar
3 tbsp 40g butter

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

To make the shortcrust pastry, put the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the oil, salt and butter. Rub the butter into the flour. Moisten with enough of the water to just bring the dough together. Briefly knead the dough by hand; the more quickly this is done, the better the pastry will be. Cover the pastry with clingfilm and let rest in the refrigerator for between 30 minutes and 24 hours.

To make the caramel, put the caster sugar and 1–2 tbsp of water in a flameproof tart pan with a solid bottom, preferably made of solid metal, or an ovenproof skillet. Place the pan over medium heat and make a fairly dark caramel. Ensure the bottom of the dish is coated in caramel and let cool.

For the filling, arrange the apple slices close together in a ring over the caramel and sprinkle with the sugar. Dot with the butter.

On a lightly floured work counter, roll out the pastry to a thickness of 5mm and place over the apples, tucking the pastry into the pan all around so the fruit is completely covered. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and immediately turn out onto a serving dish with the caramelised apples on top, then serve, with fresh cream if desired.

This is an edited extract from Classic French Recipes by Ginette Mathiot. RRP $74.95 and out now on Phaidon.*