I know, a bit late -- but happy 2011!!
While new beginnings and fresh starts are always lovely, I'll skip the whole "new year" cliche and get straight to business. I mean, resolutions schmootions...who has time for those things anyway? ;) Between 8 weddings and trips to LAS/SAN/HKG/DPS/NYC/ORD/YVR already on the books for this year, we're basically just focused on keeping our day jobs and staying sane. Besides, do you really want to hear all 20 of my titillating resolutions??
#1, be more patient
#2, wear sunscreen every day
#3, don't be afraid to speak up more often
#4, try to eat more vegetables
#5, learn how to drive stick shift
Anyway, one resolution -- errrrr, goal -- for this year was to make one of those beautifully magnificent tarts that you always see in the window shops of French bakeries and patisseries. Simple, elegant and utterly satisfying, they never seem to disappoint in both appearance and taste (funny how that works, huh).
This one is no exception. The crust is perfectly crumbly, buttery and sweet -- like a shortbread cookie. And the pears, which are poached in sugar syrup laced with lemon and cinnamon sticks, yield a delightfully delicate and mild fruit flavor. The best part, however, lies in the almond cream. I've always loved frangipane, but this one is especially nutty, soft and rich.
Dang you, French people, for making me lose resolution #12: no second helpings of dessert! I guess while we're at it, no point in trying to keep the rest of my resolutions either...right? :D
French Pear Tart
Recipe from Dorie Greenspan
Sweet Tart Dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely - you'll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that's just fine. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Press lightly into the tart pan.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Put the butter and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend. If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula. In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order. Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours.
3 medium pears, firm
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 stick cinnamon (optional)
Peel the pears, leaving them whole. Bring the 4 cups water, the 1 1/4 cups sugar, the juice of the lemon, and the cinnamon stick to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat so the syrup simmers and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup.
Assemble & Bake
Center a rack in the oven and lower the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pears in half (from blossom to stem) and core them. Make sure to pat them dry - really dry - so that their liquid won't keep the almond cream from baking. Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal icing spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it over the almond cream.
Put the crust on a lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding. Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners' sugar.