Pear and Almond tart

Maybe because it’s winter, maybe because something caught my eye, I wanted to make something with pears. Especially, I wanted to make this tart ever since I saw it on Dorie Greenspan’s website. When the invitation to a dinner with a French family came up, I was only too excited to make it! They say to not make the dessert or bring wine to a dinner since the host has things already planned and matched, but this was going to be rather casual and I did ask! I did. This being a busy mother of two little boys, she was relieved I would provide the dessert. See, not always a bad thing. I didn’t overstep any social boundaries. 🙂

I checked three recipes for this tart: Dorie Greenspan, Smitten Kitchen and David Lebovitz. Sadly, I couldn’t make David’s cause in that particular recipe he was using an almond paste that I’d need to buy and then break in my food processor. I didn’t have that and wasn’t going to buy it. I did want to use his pear layering style, but I chose the more traditional French way, since this was/is the Frenchest of French tarts. The OCD perfectionist Virgo in me wanted to layer it like David did, that way every slice would get an equal share of pear. As I said, OCD. Never mind.

Then I compared Dorie’s and Deb’s. They are the same. To the T. Except – for the almond paste. Dorie uses ground almonds and then continues to prepare the paste; Deb uses slivered (un)blanched almonds, that she powders in the food processor with a tablespoon of flour (that way they don’t stick to the sides due to their fat). I was going to go with Deb’s because that is all I had in my kitchen. If it failed, then ground almonds were going to be added to the shopping list. It worked! Thank you, Deb!

I did “steal” the tip from David to rest the pears on some kitchen paper towels while slicing them because that way they won’t make the almond paste soggy when you place them on it.

Now, then. The choice of pear. I read that I was to choose Bosc or Anjou pears, cause they keep their shape. Right. Off to supermarket. Shock and despair washed over me when I reached the pear aisle and none of the stickers said anything about Bosc or Anjou; nevermind that it is not in English. I say despair, cause I am not one of those people that walks around with a fancy phone connected to the internet 24/7 and can check and research pear varities on the spot. There is also no signage saying which ones are good for cooking, which for eating. So, in the end, you rely on yourself and your sense of smell and common sense, I guess.

I decided to smell the pears I deemed according to their shape would be the cooking type and see which ones I’d like that much that I’d like to eat them raw as well. You know, a bit like the wine you choose for cooking. Not too cheap or expensive, but also not something you will never drink. I settled on 1 Conference pear (or European pear (both terms appear on Wikipedia) and it is very similar to the Bosc pear) and 2 Abate Fetel pears. When I came home, I had to figure out what they’re in English. For the life of me, I couldn’t find anything on the Abate Fetel pear. Then I landed on a small article in The Kitchn. This is a very flavourful variety, apparently very popular in Italy and it is meant for eating. Oh well. I could see that, because as I was peeling it, it almost smelled of rose water to me, and I was afraid it might be overwhelming. Not to speak I am not too crazy about rose water. But no. The pear is wonderful. And according to The Kitchn’s article, I am supposed to feel very lucky having such easy access to this precious pear. I am getting more the next time. To just eat and enjoy.

Another thing which was shocking to discover from everyone I read, was that French women and bakeries too, would cut such corners as to use canned pears for this! I was aghast! Canned pears are NOT entering my kitchen! I AM capable of boiling pears in syrup, thank you very much. I can kiiiind of understand that they’d use the ready-made pâte sucrée or sablée, because they are indeed very good, but I still prefer to make my own dough, since it personalizes my tart and I can control the flavour. It’s hard to imagine how nice the ready-made doughs are, since in N. America in your run-of-the-mill supermarket all you can find is butterpuff pastry, rolled or in brick, phyllo and the ready-made crusts for cheesecakes, from which I stay away like the devil.

Since the tart dough and almond paste need to cool in the fridge, for at least 1h, I prepared them before my excursion to the supermarket. (I should point out that you need to plan ahead and have time on your hands, a few hours when making this, heads up!) That meant that the dough needed to be made with the T110 flour i.e. the light whole wheat flour. Maybe in the end when working in it, I realized I should’ve maybe mixed it with a bit of regular white flour, since I felt it was breaking. It may have been harder to work with, but the end result is a (I believe) a nuttier, and crumblier pastry. As much as it was making me doubt myself, I was going to stick by it and had to remind myself that it is short crust, just like making cookies, calm down. Deb mentions something about rolling the dough between two sheets of parchment paper or pressing it in the tart, like I did for the Panisse almond tart. I chose the rolling method, because the dough was definitely not greasy or “wet” enough to be moulded. (We should all be happy I stuck with the whole wheat flour only. I had half a mind to mix it with some quinoa flour!)

Ingredients for the dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used the T110)
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (I used roughly 50 gr granulated sugar)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I used 125 gr butter)
1 large egg yolk

Preparation:

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a food processor, once or twice.

2. Add the pieces of cold butter and process until the butter is coarsly broken apart in small pieces (mine were smaller than peas) (I usually do this by hand, but I followed Deb)

3. Beat the egg yolk with a fork and add slowly to the dough and whizz after each addition.

4. Once done, transfer the dough to a bowl (Deb says your workspace, but I find the bowl better; once I had it all incorporated, I transfered it to the counter) and work with your hands till it comes together.

maybe you can see it breaking…

5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2h before baking.

6. To unroll the dough, take it out of the fridge and place it between two sheets of parchment paper and using a rolling pin start stretching it till it’s the size you need for your tart pan. Mine was a bit of a challenge maybe also because my tart shell is a bit bigger than 9 inches.

the challenge

7. Once done, remove the top sheet of paper, and using the bottom sheet, flip over the rolled dough into the tart shell and press in to fit. Remove the paper when you’ve pressed it in. Mine had some cracks, because it was too much that I had to stretch it and the parchment paper is only so wide! so I patched it up! The dough has butter, so you can totally patch it up.

the tart shell before freezing and the little orphan

8. Trim the overhang and make the border nice and proper. Keep the little nubbin that is leftover.

9. Prick all over with a fork and freeze it for 30 minutes, preferably longer.

10. To fully bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Deb says because it’s been frozen, you don’t need to put pie weights. I was afraid and I still did my method of placing a parchment paper sheet and some heavier baking pans over it.

fully baked

11. Bake for 25 minutes or do what I did: bake for 15 minutes, remove the sheet and baking pans and bake for 10 more. If anything has puffed up, press it down with the back of a spoon and let the tart shell cool to room temperature. If there are some cracks, you can fill them with the nubbin you have leftover. I should’ve as well, but I didn’t. Maybe because I had pressed the dough a bit where I was patching it before baking it, made it stick to the pan in some points, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. (I need wider parchment paper 😦

Ingredients for almond paste:

2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar (that’s 84 gr, I used 75 gr)
3/4 stick (85 gr) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract or 2 teaspoons brandy (optional) (I added the almond extract and was thrilled that I was “allowed” to use 1/2 tsp! 🙂 The recipe called for it, it wasn’t me! 🙂 I was then sad I didn’t add any in the dough)

Preparation:

1. Process the almonds with the tablespoon of flour in the food processor till they’re pretty fine.

2. Add the sugar and whizz again. The coarseness of the sugar will help grind them further.

3. Add the butter and purée.

4. Add the flavourings and the egg and process until smooth.

prepared paste

5. Chill in the fridge for at least 3h.

Ingredients for pears:

4 cups (1l) water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size firm but ripe pears, peeled (Deb said she didn’t end up using all the pears. I did. My tart mould is bigger)

Preparation:

1. Bring the water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil.

2. Add the whole peeled pears and bring it to a simmer. Cook the pears for 20 minutes, giving them a stir occasionally until they’re tender.

3. Cool them in the syrup, until you need them or refrigerate. They will continue cooking for a bit and become more tender.

4. Once cooled, cut of the stem, cut them in half lengthwise and core. Place on a kitchen paper towel, so they drain.

5. Cut each half crosswise into thin strips. Not too too thin though! 🙂

Assembly:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.

2. Spread the baked tart shell with the almond filling.

3. Gently press the pears in the filling and fan the pear halves. Deb advises to use a spatula and transfer the entire sliced pear and then arrange it in the pie shell. I didn’t because the pears were different sizes so they wouldn’t have all fit as full halves. I had to mix and match 🙂

4. Bake the tart in the centre of the oven, until the knife comes out clean from the filling, for 55 minutes. (I baked mine for 47 minutes (I was rushing and it was indeed done))

classic!

You can now sprinkle the tart with some powdered sugar, or use one of David’s ideas which was to sprinkle it with some maple syrup, which is what I did. I was so afraid it was going to make it too sweet, but it’s just lovely.

I am very happy and content with my Frenchest of French tarts. From scratch, mesdames, from scratch.

P.S. Sorry for having forgotten to take pictures of the pears and the tart slices. The latter would’ve been very rude at the dinner table. I hope you understand 🙂

Now…. what to do with that leftover syrup….. Hmmmm……

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