Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Almond and Pear Tart

Almond and Pear Tart from Epicurious, originally published in Bon Appétit; February, 2005.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 medium-size firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled (each about 7 ounces)
Here, rather than go to the trouble of preparing the pears, at my Mom's suggestion I bought canned pear halves at the store. The pears were perfect for the recipe, but perhaps a little big because I could only squeeze on five. The pear halves I bought came in “light syrup,” which I reduced over medium heat for probably about 15 - 20 minutes. This made a perfect glaze for the whole top of the tart, and the crust. Read on to find out when I put it on.

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
This was a VERY good crust. You can really taste the butter, so if you don't like butter: A) You're weird (no offense), and B) I wouldn't recommend this crust to you. It also adds to the overall richness of the final product. The consistency was flakey and golden, and held well. It also did not become mushy after the pears and almond filling were added.
I used shelled almonds, only because I could not find them slivered and blanched. They worked fine; they just needed a little extra time in the food processor. DO NOT assume that the almond grounds will become smaller after you add other ingredients. THEY WILL NOT! All you will have is lumpy dough. I only say this because I nearly stopped the almonds when they were about the size of quartered pencil erasers, thinking: "Oh, they'll shrink." Luckily I quickly came to my senses...

Almond Filling
  • 2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
Pretty tasty, and adds nearly all of the moisture (aside from the pears, of course). Again, be sure to grind the almonds to their desired consistency, because they will not get any smaller after you stop grinding them. I have yet to know what the powdered sugar is for, my guess is to go on top of the final product, but frankly, I think the dessert looks more impressive without it. Plus, that way you know you won't get "white lung disease..."
For pears:
Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Again - canned is perfect. Why waste the time?
For crust:
Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
Easy, and self-explanatory. Make sure to make it a disk, though. It makes rolling easier, and freezing more consistent.
For almond filling:
Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
Again, self-explanatory.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Poke crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes.
Ok, so this part was quite interesting. First, I was trying to minimize the freezing time, so the dough was in the freezer for about half an hour, and then I moved it to the fridge. The next day, it was hard as a rock, so I took it out while reviewing the recipe's directions again. It became a little too soft then, so I put back into the freezer for probably ten minutes. I took it out, rolled it on a silicone mat without flour (I was idiotically thinking I didn't need the flour -- WRONG!), then proceeded to wreck all my work when I tried to pick it up with a flat, metal spatula. I squished it into a round disk again, froze it until it was hard, and started again, this time with just enough flour (don’t overdo it). It worked fine this time, and I was able to place it into the fluted pan without using any parchment paper. Don't worry about the cracks that will form around the base against the sides when you try to fold the dough up, they will fix easily if you gently push them back together with your fingertips. I also did the next step before the final 10 minute freeze, and that didn’t seem to affect anything. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that this dough recipe is occasionally-cocky-16-year-old proof, and that you will have to try VERY hard if you want to mess it up. 
Line crust with buttered foil, buttered side down, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Bake crust until sides are golden and bottom is set, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Cool crust in pan on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
I lined the tart with heavy duty foil too, only because I’m lazy when it comes to cleaning up. The only thing I had to do differently was make sure it was all pressed into each ‘dent’ in the fluted sides. After wards, I used a non-stick cooking spray. I only waited until the crust was mildly warm after it came out of the oven. I’m terribly impatient when cooking…
Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center.
The almond filling doesn’t seem to like spreading, so I put dollops of the filling around the pan, and used the plastic wrap that was covering the bowl and pressed it down on top of the dollops. This flattened it enough to place the pears on top. Cutting the pears was not all that difficult because you don’t even have to cut the pears at an angle, just up and down. The spatula trick worked well if you have a perfectly flat spatula with no holes, or slots. If you cut a rectangle out of the center of a heavy-duty paper plate it should work about as well. During the second and final time baking the tart I covered the whole thing with a piece of regular aluminum foil. This prevented the crust from baking any more than it already had.
Bake tart until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.
Again, I don’t get the powdered sugar because the pears were still moist, and I think they would have absorbed the sugar before you could blink, leaving an ugly, light brown, cakey…thing…all over your beautiful tart.
What I loved about this recipe was that the cook times were spot-on, so in the final five minutes of baking, I removed the piece of aluminum foil that had been over the tart, and brushed on the glaze. I let this bake until the timer went off, then I turned on the broiler and watched while the glaze caramelized b-e-a-utifully. That did not take long at all.
By the time I put the tart in the oven, I realized that I had enough dough to make another small tart, so I followed the same procedure for baking the big tart, only with a 4 or 5 inch pan, and stuck it in the oven for the same amount of time. It also came out perfectly, so maybe I’ll make many smaller crusts next time and have different filings. I finished it with a few layers of  ¼ inch strawberry slices coated in the pear glaze, a mountain of homemade whipped cream (1 c. heavy cream + about 4 T. granulated sugar, depends on how sweet you like it), and a few more strawberry slices on top. Yum!

Overall Rating :

Taste: 8/10: Only because the flavors did not really make too much of an impression on me. Next time I might figure out a way to add 1 t. almond extract to the crust, just to give it a pop. If you like delicate flavors, though, you’ll love this exactly how it’s written. Also – please know that my affection for chocolate has some influence on my grade. I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic, and so I don’t tend to enjoy things without chocolate as much as things with the lovely stuff.

Time: 10/10: For the time spent on this, it comes out perfectly. Obviously if it didn’t take quite so long I’d be happier, but so many of the elements are fine if done ahead, and it’s supposed to be served cool, so it’s great for parties and for the holidays.

Difficulty (10 being the highest): 4: Some basic skills are required, such as being able to slice things consistently, but otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary.

Beauty: 10/10: Difficult to mess up; this dessert looks professional, difficult, and is slightly more impressive than your average birthday cake.

Cost: Not very expensive with the canned pears. The almonds were the most expensive item, and even those were not bad. In future, I will figure out the total cost and post it.

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