My sister-in-law just returned from an Italian business trip this past weekend. She was in Venice a couple of days, and in Firenze the rest of the time. Now, I know my SNL isn’t bashful at the table, nor when she’s in a good pastry shop. So to help her decelerate from all that Italian sweet yumminess, I left one of my pear-almond cream tarts at her mom’s house for her to enjoy after she landed. (Yeah, I know … thank you, thank you very much … what a great bother-in-law I am.)
I’m usually good for a pear tart about once every six weeks. After having made them for over twenty-five years, they’re a no-brainer for me. What I didn’t realize was that I never did a post with a recipe for it. If you’re a baker, then this will be a snap. If not, get your rolling pin, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to make a delicious dessert.
Makes a 10 inch round tart or a 6 inch by 10 inch tart
For the pastry dough follow this link.
For the Almond Cream:
1 cup or 100 g. whole almonds, shelled, husked, and toasted
½ cup or 100 g. sugar
2 Tbsp or 18 g. unbleached white flour
7 Tbsp or 100 g. unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp real vanilla extract
Place the almonds, sugar, and flour in the work bowl of a food processor and grind until fine. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter (if using a Kitchenaid mixer, use the paddle attachment). Once smooth and creamy, add ½ the ground almonds/sugar to the mixing bowl and combine. Then add one of the eggs, followed by the rest of the almond/sugar and finally add the second egg. After everything is mixed add the vanilla and blend well.
Remove the almond cream from the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least for an hour; overnight is even better. Just make sure when you’re ready to use, remove the almond cream from the refrigerator for ten minutes and bring to room temperature.
For the Poached Pears:
4 pears, pealed, halved, and cored (I prefer Bartlett and use the fourth pear, just in case)
2 ½ cups water
½ fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup or 85 g. sugar
2 Tbsp Cointreau
2 Tbsp real vanilla extract
Place water and sugar in a large sauté pan or 10” Dutch oven. Heat until just starting to boil and make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add the vanilla and the Cointreau, then add the pears cored side down. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover with a piece of parchment paper (Tip: use the lid as a template to cut the parchment paper to fit the poaching pan.) Poach for 8-10 minutes. Check on the pears; they’re done when a small paring knife easily pierces them, but not to the point where they are soft or mushy. I prefer them on the firm side. Off heat and allow them to cool to room temperature. They are ready to use at this point. Better if you poach them a day ahead. If so, once they have cooled, place them in the refrigerator overnight covered with parchment paper. This allows them to develop in flavor.
Blind Bake the Pastry Dough:
You’ll need a 10 inch removable bottom, fluted tart pan, greased/buttered and floured.
Take the pastry dough from the refrigerator and let it come to ambient temperature for 15-30 minutes. The idea is to have a dough that is still firm and chilled, yet not so cold that it cracks and splits when you roll it out. Use either a large cutting board, a pastry stone or marble, or a granite counter top, and make sure it is scrupulously clean. Generously flour the surface, place the dough in the center of the work area and flour it abundantly.
Roll out the dough into a circle using a large rolling pin. Use more flour if the dough appears to be sticking to either the work surface or the pin. Roll away and toward you, then rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat. You’re after an even sheet of pastry dough approximately 1/16”-1/8’ thick. Flour the top surface of the expanded pastry dough and, starting at one end of the dough, carefully roll it up onto the rolling pin. Quickly place the edge of the rolled up dough an inch or two away from the edge of the tart pan, and unwind the dough across the form. The dough should overlap the form by at least an inch all around. Gently mold the pliable dough into the shape of the tart form. Cut any excess dough that’s draping outside the form, leaving about ¾ inch of dough overlapping the form. Now gently fold that ¾ inch excess dough into the inside of the tart mold, up against the form’s sides. This gives the finished tart a thick and crispy crust.
Prick the dough with the tines of a fork on the bottom and sides. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough and add pie weights (I use ceramic pastry weights, but for years I used dried beans which I reused over and over again.) They will help in preventing the cooking dough from rising.
Place the tart form containing the pastry dough in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. When the exposed edges just start to color, remove from the oven. Discard parchment paper, set aside weights, and return pastry dough to the oven, reducing the heat to 400 degrees. Continue baking for another twenty minutes or so, or until the baked pastry shell is softly golden. Remove from the oven and let it rest on a cooling rack.
Assembling & Baking the Tart:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Once the almond cream has come to room temperature, spread evenly on the bottom of the blind baked pastry shell. Take the cooled poached pear halves and slice each one across the width so that each slice is about 3/16” thick. Make sure you reserve the pear poaching liquid. Using a wide knife or spatula, lift the sliced pear intact and place it in the almond cream, narrow-end towards the center of the pastry shell. I find it best to have the wide end of the pear up against the crust and gently fanning the slices towards the center. Repeat with the other pear halves going from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock to 2 and 4 o’clock, and 8 and 10 o’clock.
Slip the tart into a preheated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. The almond cream will puff up, almost smothering the pears. The tart should be a golden color, and the almond cream should be firm when touched with your finger. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
Glazing and serving the Pear Tart:
A half hour or so before you’re ready to plate and serve the tart, mix 3 Tbsp of reserved poaching liquid in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Heat and mix until dissolved and set aside. Meanwhile, reduce the remain poaching liquid in a small sauce pan down to about ¼ cup. Add 1-2 Tbsp of your favorite liqueur (I used Cointreau) to the sauce pan and then the cornstarch mixture. Blend well with a whisk over low heat. When thickened, paint two coats of the glaze onto the tart’s surface. Before serving, sift a dusting of confectioner’s sugar onto the pear tart.
Simple, right? Actually, it sounds harder than it is. And it is well worth the effort.