Sometimes, things can all go pear-shaped. Other times, it can happen often.
Thanksgiving did not go the way of that fruit, after all, my last entry’s title notwithstanding. Actually it was kind of great, and I am still very, very full.
But what’s so wrong with being pear-shaped anyway? The expression, while vivid—whether to describe the shape of an unfortunate course of events or corporeal distribution—does not do the poor dear justice. True, pears are bottom-heavy, often lumpy, and never quite so perfect as their more spherical, Eve-inducing brethren. If they are pretty, you can rest assured that they will not taste good, because at their best, pears are very soft. They are delicate and they bruise easy. If handled properly, however, with lots of care and a bit of respect, knowing that they can be somewhat temperamental and that their timing is not always in sync with yours (or at least mine) – if handled in these ways, I think that pears can be and will be and almost always are so, so good.
I like them sliced messily and alone. They are also good with Roquefort and toasted walnuts. Perhaps on top of a salad, but the greens are totally beside the point. If you must cook them, they will roast up nicely. Of course pears are great with chocolate. They poach in red wine and will stand up to great spice. (E.g., My dear friend Lexi made a version that looks truly yummy with star anise in it.) Oh my.
As with most near-perfect fruits in the world, I tend to think that making a tart of them is a little tart. But one can only eat so many raw fruits in a season. And salad’s not so satisfying when it is cold. So my contribution to Thanksgiving this year was a non-pumpkin dessert. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, I was hell-bent on it, to tell the truth. For no good reason at all I am terrified of canned pumpkin. And I am equally terrified (though I think with good reason) of real pumpkin, which is watery and horrible and remains best employed as a jack-o-lantern. So pumpkin pie was out. As for that other old standby, the only pecan pie I have ever loved was made by a friend who now lives across an ocean. And lacking her version, I am terrified of pecan pie, too. I like pecans just fine, but I don’t know what the bottom gooey stuff is made of in pecan pie, and I don’t like pecans when I can’t separate them from that goo. I am not usually a picky eater. But I digress. This was very good, and it was so pretty our hands were all trembling when we tried to take the picture, like such:
With many thanks to David Lebovitz for running such a wonderful website, and hopes that we can all remain blissfully in food comas and leftover land for just a few days longer, before the next set of holidays begins and when things can really go all … quince-shaped?
Pear + almond tartSpecial kit: 1 9 in/20 cm tart pan with a removable bottom (or as I did and do not recommend, a springform pan around which you can cut the crust so it is of the right height)
For the pears: 3 pears, quite firm, like Comice | 1 lemon | 1 vanilla bean | 2 cups sugar | 4 cups water For the crust: 90 g (about 6 tbsp) butter | 1 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed) | 3 tbsp water | 1 tbsp sugar | 1 pinch salt | 150 g (1 slightly rounded cup) flour For the almond insides: 1 7 oz tube almond paste | 2 tsp flour | 1 pinch salt | 85 g (about 5.5 tbsp) butter, at room temperature | 1 egg | 1 egg white To serve: Some powdered sugar + a fine meshed strainer, perhaps some toasted almond slivers, maybe vanilla ice cream, too
Poach the pears: Peel and cut them into pretty eighths. Toss them with a bit of lemon juice to keep from turning brown. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds into a large pot. Toss the pod, sugar, and water in as well and stir. Bring everything to a boil. Then add the pears, turn the heat down, and poach at a very gentle simmer until they are quite soft but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool in their liquid.
Make the crust: Heat the oven to 410 F (210 C). Place butter, oil, water, sugar + salt in an ovenproof bowl and put that in the oven. After 15 minutes, take it out, dump in the flour, and stir until the mixture forms a ball. This will take all of 30 seconds. Transfer dough to tart mold, smoosh it out a bit with your spoon, and then do something else until it is cool enough to handle, about 15 more minutes.
Press dough into and up the sides of the mold with your hands, reserving a small piece to patch holes. Prick the dough many times with a fork. Place the mold on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Let the shell cool entirely before filling. If there are any sizable cracks, use the bit of reserved dough to patch them. If there are not, eat the bit of reserved dough. (Yum!) Turn oven to 375 F (180 C).
Make filling + assemble: Smash up the almond paste, flour, and salt. (It will likely be more crumbly than pasty.) Then beat in the butter until well-mixed. A handheld or standing mixer is good for this. Then add the egg + egg white. When all is well-mixed, you are done.
Take the pears out of the poaching liquid (Do not discard the liquid!), and place on papertowels to drain. Dump the almond paste into the tart shell and spread around. Arrange the pears as attractively as you like on top of the almond, pressing them in slightly. Place mold back on baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes. It is ready when the filling lightly browned and puffed.
To serve: Reduce the pear poaching liquid down to a thick syrup and use that to glaze the tart, if you like (I did). Also optional: Put some powdered sugar in your little sifter or strainer and shake over the tart. Garnish with slivered almonds. Some people like ice cream, too.
Could serve 8, may serve much fewer