I was given a special assignment a few days ago. It was to bake something for my mom’s friends whom she holds quite dear to her heart. They are caring, thoughtful, and generous individuals; most memorably, during my mom’s recovery period from surgery. Despite being busy mothers themselves, these women took time out of their day to visit my mom, keep her company, and feed her home cooked and nourishing dishes. As a small token of my appreciation, I try to bake something for them as often as I can. This time, I chose a poached pear and frangipane tart. I will admit that — compared to other tart recipes– this one required quite a bit of time commitment (heck, I’ve made 3 layer cakes in a shorter period of time), but it was well worth it, especially for these ladies. I invited them over and we all tucked in. Boy, was this dessert well received! The taste of the tart was utterly divine; I could swim in that frangipane with its nutty and floral almond flavour, accented with spiced wine poached pears, and all contained in a buttery, crisp crust.
To maintain sanity, don’t do what I did and make the pears and filling on the same day. The pears, filling, and tart shell can all be made in advance. Since there are several wait times throughout this recipe, so you’ll thank me later if you do the prep in advance. On bake day, you’ll only have to worry about assembling everything and baking it off. Again, I’ve italicized my suggestions below. The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated.
Poached Pear and Frangipane Tart
1 bottle white wine (750 ml) Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (I used an Ontario Riesling from Pelee Island Winery and got away with it because it happened to be a pear infused wine)
2/3 cup granulated sugar (about 4 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon plus 4 or 5 large strips zest removed with vegetable peeler
1 3- inch piece cinnamon stick
15 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves (don’t substitute for the ground spice clove. you won’t get the same results)
1/8 teaspoon table salt (I used 1/4 tsp kosher salt)
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced in half lengthwise (don’t discard the pod after you’ve poached the pears with it. Dry it and stick it in a container with some granulated sugar. Wait a month or two, shaking every so often, and voila! you have made yourself vanilla sugar)
4 ripe but firm pears (about 8 ounces each), preferably Bosc or Bartlett (I used Bartlett)
Tart Pastry (Pâte Sablée)
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used buttermilk because it was what I had on hand. It worked fine)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (3 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon table salt (I used 1/2 tsp of kosher salt)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks), very cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Almond Filling (Frangipane)
4 ounces blanched slivered almonds (1 cup) (I toasted the almonds to bring out their flavour. To do this bake almonds at 350F for 12 minutes. Cool completely before proceeding with recipe. I used 1 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon table salt (1/4 tsp kosher salt)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (Upped it to 1 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and softened to room temperature
1/4 cup apricot or apple jelly (I used apple jelly)
Directions: (yes, there are a lot, but it’s well worth reading from beginning to end before you start the recipe)
To Poach the Pears:
Combine wine, sugar, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, and salt in large, nonreactive saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean pod, and add seeds and pod to saucepan. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.
Meanwhile, peel, halve, and core pears. (do this as quickly as you can to prevent the pears from oxidizing and turning brown. If you work slow, sprinkle lemon juice over the pears to maintain their vibrant hue.) Slide pears into simmering wine; increase heat to high and return to simmer; then reduce heat to low and simmer; covered; until pears are tender; toothpick or skewer inserted into pear should slide in and out with very little resistance; and outer edges of pears have turned translucent; about 10 minutes; turning pears in liquid halfway through poaching time using wooden spoon or spatula.
Turn off heat, cool pears in liquid, partially covered, until pears have turned translucent and are cool enough to handle, about 1 hour. (Pears and liquid may be transferred to nonreactive bowl or container, cooled to room temperature, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days.) (I am still trying to figure out what to do with this leftover poaching liquid! Maybe use some of it for braising in a savoury dish?…)
Make the Tart Pastry:
Whisk together yolk, cream, and vanilla in small bowl. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor with four 1-second pulses. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; pulse to cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, about twenty 1-second pulses. With machine running, add egg mixture and process until dough comes together, about 12 seconds. Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and press into 6-inch disk; wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 48 hours. (I make the dough by hand: sift the dry into a large bowl and cut the butter in with my fingers as quickly as possible.. you don’t want to warm the butter otherwise you’ll end up with a pasty, greasy crust instead of a light, crisp one. Alternatively you could use a pastry cutter. Add liquid and gather together till it forms a ball)
Remove dough from refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable). Unwrap and roll out between lightly floured large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 15-inch round. (If dough becomes soft and sticky, slip onto baking sheet and refrigerate until workable, about 20 minutes.) Transfer dough to tart pan by rolling dough loosely over rolling pin and unrolling over 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom (I greased, floured and lined the bottom with parchment). Working around circumference of pan, ease dough into pan corners by gently lifting dough with one hand while pressing dough into corners with other hand. Press dough into fluted sides of pan, patching breaks or cracks if necessary. (If some edges are too thin, reinforce sides by folding excess dough back on itself.) Run rolling pin over top of tart pan to remove excess dough. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet or large plate and freeze 30 minutes. (Frozen dough-lined tart pan can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 month.) (The baking sheet direction is unrealistic. who has that much space in their freezer? Just carefully take the dough-lined tart pan itself and place it on a flat surface in your freezer– such as the top rack. I just cleared out a few items to do this and put them in the fridge temporarily)
Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Set dough-lined tart pan on baking sheet; lightly spray one side of 18-inch square heavy-duty extra-wide foil with nonstick cooking spray. Press foil, greased-side down, inside frozen tart shell, folding excess foil over edge of tart pan; fill with metal or ceramic pie weights (I used rice, it can be reused as well. Just don’t cook and eat it). Bake until dry, pale gold, and edges have just begun to color, about 20 minutes (took me 35 minutes), rotating halfway through baking. Remove from oven and carefully remove foil and weights by gathering edges of foil and pulling up and out. Set baking sheet with tart shell on wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Make the Almond Filling:
Pulse almonds, sugar, and salt in food processor until finely ground, about 25 two-second pulses; process until as finely ground as possible, about 10 seconds longer. Add egg and egg white, almond and vanilla extracts; process until combined, about 10 seconds. Add butter and process until no lumps remain, about 10 seconds. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl with rubber spatula and process to combine thoroughly, about 10 seconds longer. (Can be refrigerated in airtight container up to 3 days. Before using, let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes to soften, stirring 3 or 4 times.)
Assemble and baking the Tart:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pears from poaching liquid; set pears cut-side down on triple thickness paper towels and pat dry with additional paper towels (this is important; otherwise, you’ll end up with a soggy filling due to the excess liquid).
Spread almond filling evenly into partially baked and cooled tart shell using offset icing spatula (a blunt butter knife works too).
Cut one pear half crosswise into 3/8-inch slices; do not separate slices, and leave pear half intact on cutting board. Pat dry with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
Slide icing spatula under sliced pear and, steadying it with one hand, slide pear to center of tart.
Cut and dry another pear half. Slide spatula under pear and gently press pear to fan slices toward narrow end.
Slide fanned pear onto frangipane, narrow end toward center, making a flower-petal pattern off the center pear.
Repeat process with remaining pear halves, spacing them evenly. If necessary, use spatula to push pears to space them evenly. (it should look like a flower: 7 pedals surrounding the ‘bud’ aka 8th pear in the middle)
Bake tart on baking sheet until crust is deep golden brown and almond filling is puffed, browned, and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Cool tart on baking sheet on wire rack 10 minutes.
Glaze the Tart:
Bring jelly to boil in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to smooth out lumps. When boiling and completely melted, brush glaze on pears. Cool tart to room temperature, about 2 hours. (Tart can be kept at room temperature longer but should be served the day it is made.)
Remove outer metal ring of tart pan, slide thin metal spatula between bottom of crust and tart pan bottom to release, then slip tart onto cardboard round or serving platter; cut into wedges and serve.
Yield: 10-12 slices ( I serve generous slices so I got 8 )