Friday, March 14, 2008

Pear Caramel Almond Tart

Ever since last Thanksgiving, I can't face apples. I had a crowd of family and expectations were high. I feverishly scoured the internets for the perfect apple pie recipe. You see, my mother in law was part of the group I needed to please. She has discerning tastes and my goal was to make her swoon with joy at the first bite. Apple pies are notoriously tricky, just read any holiday edition of Cook's Illustrated. I finally found the perfect recipe; but since I shouldn't point out deficiencies, well, we can just assume user error on this one. My apple pie for Thanksgiving was a total failure. This apple pie was characterized by a limp, soggy crust and a giant black hole of space between the top of the crust and the uppermost layer of mush i.e. lemon flavored apples. I mean, who needs lemon in apple pie? That's all I could taste and I swear I followed the recipe exactly. That's the reason for my apple phobia now. Pears, though, you see, are a different animal. I can boil a pear like a champ. And nothing goes better with pears than caramel; this lesson I learned from David Lebovitz' ice cream book. And everyone knows how nicely pears and almonds go together; isn't a Pear Frangipane Tart a quintessential French dessert? I urge you to make this. It is made in several steps, over several days if you wish or all at once.

Caramel, Pear and Almond Tart
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2005

Step 1:
Sweet Tart Dough
adapted from "From My Home To Yours", by Dorie Greenspan
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 total tablespoons) very cold or frozen unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Preparation: In the bowl of your food processor, pulse flour, confectioner's sugar, and salt to combine. Scatter pieces of butter over dry ingredients and pulse until butter is coarsely cut in (some pieces will be the size of oatmeal and some will be the size of peas). Stir the yolk to break it up and add it little by little, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses, around 10 seconds each, until the dough forms clumps and curds. Alternatively, you can cut the mixture in a large bowl with a pastry blender until you have clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead dough very lightly to incorporate any dry ingredients that escaped mixing.
Prepare your tart pan by buttering all inside surfaces. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer prior to baking.

To Bake Crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. The crust can be baked without pie weights since you froze it prior. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Inspect your crust and press down any puffed up parts with the back of a spoon. Bake an additional 10 minutes until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer tart pan to a cooling rack and cool crust to room temperature prior to filling.

Step 2:
Prepare 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
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg and almond extract. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)

Step 3:
Prepare Pears
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled (each about 7 ounces)

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.)
Step 4:
Make Caramel Sauce:
Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 liquid cup water
1/2 liquid cup heavy cream, heated in microwave for 1 minute
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, syrup, and water until the sugar is completely moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring completely and allow it to boil undisturbed until it turns a deep amber*. Immediately remove it from the heat and slowly and carefully pour the hot cream into the caramel. It will bubble up furiously.
Use a high-temperature heat-resistant rubber spatula, or a porcelain or wooden spoon to stir the mixture until smooth, scraping up the thicker part that settles on the bottom. If any lumps develop, return the pan to the heat and stir until they dissolve. Stir in the butter. The mixture will be streaky but become uniform after cooling slightly and stirring. Allow the sauce to cool for 3 minutes. Gently stir in the vanilla extract.
To Store: Room temperature, up to 3 days; refrigerated, at least 3 months. To reheat: If the caramel is in a microwave-safe container at room temperature, microwave it on high power for 1 minute, stirring twice. If cold, it will take a few seconds more. Alternatively, place it in a bowl in a pan of simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally, until warm, about 7 minutes.
* I cooked the caramel on medium-low heat and it took about 18 minutes to turn the deep amber I was striving for. Read David Lebovitz's post on creating the perfect caramel.

Step 5:
To assemble tart:
Position oven rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread almond filling evenly in cooled, baked crust. Pour 3/4 of the warm caramel over almond filling. 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.
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, and/or reserved caramel sauce, if desired, and serve.


Madam Chow said...

I should make this - I've been wanting to for years, but haven't gotten around to it. Lovely picture!

Anonymous said...

Great Recipe, but I would have liked to know how many people does it serve, size of pie plate, removable bottom or not.