It’s been a week of dinners with friends visiting from far-away places, and as usual it’s a bit bittersweet. Early January’s something of a European pilgrimage to NYC, and it’s hard when it comes to an end to know it will be another year before we see many of our friends again.
For our last dinner, we had an extra-special sweet tooth to appease, so, taking inspiration from our European visitors and winter greenmartket bounty, we decided to try our hand at a pear tart, à la français.
We turned to Dorie Greenspan for her recipe for the tart that folks in the United States call something like, ‘pear and almond frangipane pie’. At first, the long, multi-part recipe seemed a bit daunting, but in fact the tart comes together easily, especially if you take an hour the day before to poach the pears and whip up the almond cream.
And it’s spectacular. Simple, yet sophisticated and profoundly satisfying: a sweet, crumbly crust, tender fruit, fragrant cream. It’s just like a slice from a Parisian pâtisserie.
The recipe calls for a food processor, which we don’t have. We made the pastry by hand and the almond cream with a hand blender, and didn’t run into much difficulty. We added a cinnamon stick to our pear poaching liquid, to add a bit of winter warmth to our tart, but it’s optional. And, to be safe, we made an extra pear lest we drop one or something tragic (they’re delicious with yogurt, or oatmeal, or just by themselves). Dorie said to be prepared to enjoy the tart the day it’s made, but we’ve blasphemously found it as delicious, and maybe even more so, the following day!
french pear tart.
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
makes one 9-inch tart
For the poached pears
2 ripe medium pears
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the sweet pastry crust
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
For the almond cream
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg plus 1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
For the pears: Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut the pears in half, remove the seed core and fibrous cores at either end, then peel the pears.
Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and reduce heat to low. Cover, and let pears poach for about 15 minutes, turning them halfway. The pears will become slightly translucent, very tender, and easily pierced with a knife.
Let the pears cool in their liquid until room temperature before using. Or, you can store them in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
For the tart shell: Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Do not let the dough form into a ball or it will be be overworked. When the dough looks like it will stick together if you press it, stop pulsing.
Butter a 9-in tart tin with removable bottom. Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. Save any extra dough for patching the shell after baking. Don’t press too hard, or the dough will be tough.
Freeze the tart shell for at least 30 minutes, if not longer. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. (No pie weights needed!) Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. (You’re only partially baking here.) If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough. Let cool on a rack until room temperature.
For the almond cream: Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the ground almonds and blend together. Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. Process the mixture until it is very smooth. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts just to blend. The almond cream can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If it becomes too firm in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a while to soften before using.
To assemble and finish the tart: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almond cream evenly into the cooled tart shell.
Take the poached pears out of their liquid and drain them on paper towels. (Too much liquid and the tart will be soggy.) Cut each pear half crosswise into 3/8 in thick slices. Do not separate the pear half! Slide a spatula or other flat utensil underneath the pear so you can transfer the entire (sliced) half onto the tart. Press on the pear to fan the slices toward the top narrow end of the pear. Slide the pear half onto the almond cream carefully – you can move the pear after you place it, but not much. Repeat with three other pear halves until there are four halves on the tart, evenly spaced.
Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the almond cream is puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. Cool the tart on a wire rack.
Before serving, you can brush the pears with some warmed apple jelly to glaze, or dust with confectioner’s sugar.