What fruits can possibly be in season in the middle of winter? Bosc pears from the Ratty, of course! A lot of us might get turned off by their ugly brown skins and sometimes too-hard-to-bite-into textures (just give them two days by your heater vent or next to that borderline mushy banana), but don't pass up these ugly ducklings just yet! With a rejuvenating skin-peel and a soak in a hot boozy syrup, followed by a nestling in buttery vanilla almond cream, even these eyesores can become magnificent swans of fragrant pear-y goodness.
shhh...they don't know you are conspiring to eat them.
Overall, a lovely tart. 90% based on Dorie's recipe, the booze was my addition. Future endeavors may consider:
-cutting the sugar a bit in the almond cream (maybe to 1/2 cup)
-swapping vanilla for almond extract in the filling
-more pears? perhaps under the almond cream
-more crust on the bottom, less on the sides
French Pear Tart
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe
Makes 16ish servings, depending on how many request seconds
For the pears:
4 smallish medium bosc pears, firm but ripe, peeled, stemmed, and sliced in half
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup amaretto
For the almond cream:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
scant 2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
1 partially-baked 9-inch tart (pie) shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough (recipe follows), at room temp
reduced pear poaching liquid, for glazing (optional, recipe below)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Bring the 4 cups water, 1 cup sugar, lemon juice, and amaretto 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 10 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup (I left them overnight on the counter - they were still warm the next morning and the amaretto flavor was nicely infused).
To make the almond cream: Put the butter and sugar in 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. Spread the almond cream evenly over cool pie crust with a spatula and refrigerate until chilled (I did 30 min in the freezer).
Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Core the pears (pull the stringy part out as you core). Pat the pears very dry with paper towels so that their liquid won't keep the almond cream from baking.
Take the chilled cream and crust out of the refrigerator. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream. The halves will form spokes.
Bake the tart for 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.
Prepare a glaze by bringing the pear poaching liquid to a boil, reducing it to a syrupy consistency (about 5 min on high, check it periodically to make sure it doesn't start caramelizing too much). Brush the glaze over the surface of the tart. Dust with Confectioners' sugar.
Storing: If it's convenient for you, you can make the almond cream up to 2 days ahead and keep it closely covered in the refrigerator, or you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; defrost before using. You can also poach the pears up to 1 day ahead. Once you've baked the tart, you should be prepared to enjoy it that same day, although chilled leftovers are pretty scrumptious out of the fridge.
Sweet Tart Dough
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. 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 forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
Very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. (note: I did this by hand with a pastry cutter - getting an even dough was a challenge - the dough was still dry after adding the egg yolk. I ended up adding 1 tablespoon of heavy cream to make it come together)
Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To partially bake the crust: 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. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.