Thursday, December 24, 2009

Almonds, Butter, Pears

A partidge in a pear tree ... the first gift in the classic Christmas song involves one of my favorite fruits, and this is the time of year to enjoy ditching diets, so what better holiday treat than a buttery pear and almond tart?

The pear and almond cream combination has been a favorite of mine since I passed my time sampling patisseries, er-hem, I mean studying, during my semester in France, and this particular tart, which I have been making for close to 15 years based on a couple Bon Appetit recipes is a keeper.

The crust unfailingly bakes up buttery, crisp and crumbly, and the rich almond cream is the perfect complement to the delicate flavor of the pears.

It's easy enough to make (especially if you prep the crust and filling a day ahead), and looks like something you'd pay a lot for at a bakery.

Pear Almond Tart

Crust (dough can be made the day before baking)

1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds (30 g.)
1/2 cup powdered sugar or 1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar (50 g.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (112 g.)
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour (170 g.)

Almond filling

2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds (65 g.)
1 tablespoon all purpose flour (10 g.)
5 tablespoons sugar (65 g.)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (85 g.)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract plus 1/2 tsp. almond extract)

For the top
2 to 3 pears (a pound to a pound and a half)

about 1/4 cup apricot jam, melted (to glaze the pears after the tart is baked)

1) Prepare crust:
Process the almonds, sugar and salt in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground. Add butter, processing until smooth (scrape down sides of bowl when needed), then blend in egg yolk. Add flour and pulse until dough clumps together.
Press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, and dock with a fork.
Wrap well with plastic and let dough chill and rest three hours. You can make it up to this point and bake it in the next day or two.
Note: You don't have to wash out the processor before using it to make the filling now.

2) Prepare filling:
In the processor, finely grind the almonds, together with the tablespoon flour.
Add in 5 tablespoons sugar, pulsing until it's well blended, then mix in butter, and then egg and vanilla.
Put the frangipane into a bowl or container and chill, covered. You can also prep the filling a day or two in advance.

3) Bake crust:
Preheat oven to 375° F and freeze crust 10 minutes.

Set bowl of filling on counter to soften (for easier spreading).

Line crust with buttered aluminum foil, pressing the buttered side down, then fill with pie weights or dried beans.
Bake 10-20 minutes (depending on your oven) to set the sides. Remove foil and weights, if using them, and continue baking until the bottom is set, about 10 more minutes.

I often have to cover the sides with a pie protector to keep them from overly browning. Also, the bottom sometimes balloons up. When that happens, lightly pierce crust bottom with the tines of a fork to release the steam and press it back down with the back of the fork.

Cool crust in pan on a rack, and lower oven to 350° F.

4) Assemble:
Spread frangipane in cooled crust, then slice pears and arrange slices on top of the filling.

Bake tart until filling is set and crust is golden, about 50 to 55 minutes. You can use a toothpick to test the filling. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover it with a pie crust protector or aluminum foil.

6) Glaze:
Place tart on rack to cool, and brush melted apricot jam over the pears.


* Sometimes I slice pear halves crosswise and then fan the slices from the middle outward or vice versa. Sometimes I slice them lengthwise and arrange them in whatever pattern pleases me.

* Some recipes for this tart, which I've seen called tarte Bourdaloue, call for poaching the pears first. When the pears are already juicy and ripe (poaching would make them disintegrate), I simply slice them and put them atop the tart without pre-poaching. I've also seen recipes for this that call for using canned pear in a pinch.

* I've used whole almonds, with or without the skin, for both the crust and the filling when I didn't have blanched almonds.

* A scale is invaluable for accurate and consistent baking results. When measuring flour, for instance, depending on the texture of the batch of flour, the amount of air in the product and the ambient humidity, the true amount measured at different times can vary considerably, even for a single cook using the same cup measures.

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