Right under our noses
Posted on August 21, 2011
I know you may think of pears as a fall fruit, something to sing about on the first day of Christmas, or make into a compote for your winter pancakes. You also may think of pears as a northern thing, something from a cold place, like Washington state, or the Hudson Valley. Surely they must be trucked in to South Texas.
Well, I certainly thought so. Until someone handed me a bag of pears from a ranch in Lytle, TX. Perfectly ripe, home-grown, sweet, delicious Texas pears. In the middle of our drought plagued August of 103 degree days and dead grass. (Only the cactus look healthy around here.) But no, we have JUICY pears ripening, right under our noses.
Texas is a place of contradictions, not just from our politicians. These are rounder pears, and from what I can tell from looking at lots of pictures and descriptions– as well as which varieties grow near San Antonio,– they are Monterrey Pears. Popularized in Monterrey, Mexico. They are sweet dessert pears, with a smooth texture. According to the horticulturists, even a fool could grow these pears organically in San Antonio.
I jumped at the chance to turn them into a pear almond tart. I think this was the best tart I have made. It was sweet, but the contrast of the buttery crust and the almond custard is perfect. The pears are flavorful, but not tart, so they go very nicely with the almond. It is quite a dreamy combination of flavors and textures.
This is a little more involved than a pie, but nothing too hard. It is however, best made in parts ahead of time, a day or so in advance. So, my advice would be on the night before you want to serve this tart, make the almond filling and poach the pears. Then the next morning, bake your crust. Anytime after the crust is cool, assemble the tart and bake it. It is quite fabulous when it is warm out of the oven, so maybe wait till just before you serve it to bake it.
Excuse my ugly green plate, I took it with me to work, so I needed something plastic.
If you don’t want to bother with the tart, just eat these poached pears, they are such a treat!
This is a very common dessert in France, so if you run into any francophiles, do offer them a piece!
Pear Almond Tart
adapted from David Lebovitz
David advises us not to use Bartlett or Comice pears for this, as they will fall apart. He uses Bosc. I used Monterrey, an Orient hybrid variety.
Part I: poached pears
1 quart of water
3 or 4 large (or 5 small) pears, peeled, cored, and quartered.
1 cup sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 orange or lemon
vanilla bean (or dash of extract)
tsp of fresh sliced ginger
In a large sauce pan, warm the water and sugar until it dissolves. Add all of your spices and additional flavorings. Slide the pears in and bring to a low boil. Boil them for 15-25 minutes, until a skewer goes through easily. Remove from heat and allow them to cool in the liquid. You can put the pears and their juice in a container (after they cool) and keep in the refrigerator for several days.
One method David recommends for making sure they cook evenly is to cover them in a round piece of parchment paper while they are cooking. This keeps them more evenly submerged. I neglected to do this, as it seemed fussy, and mine were noticeably uneven. However, given that the tart cooks for 40 minutes after it is assembled, I figured none of them would be undercooked by then. I was pretty happy with the result. If you plan to eat these after poaching and not put them in a tart, use the parchment trick.
Part II: Tart Shell
This is a strange recipe, but it works beautifully. Be very careful with the hot butter mixture, it spits! Makes one 9 inch tart shell.
3 oz. unsalted butter (I use Falfurrias)
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 slightly rounded cup all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
Preheat the oven to 410 degrees farenheit. In an ovenproof glass bowl (try to pick one with some depth) combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt. Cook it for 15 minutes. It will spit and sizzle about half-way through, but keep cooking until you see slight browning on the edges.
Very carefully remove it from the oven. Don’t turn the oven off. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together in a big ball. Place it in the tart pan, and use a spoon or spatula to begin spreading it. When it is cool enough to touch, press it into the tart shell with your fingers, making it as even as possible.
Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Bake it at 410 for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before filling.
Part III: Almond Custard
This can also be done in advance, even frozen.
6 oz. Almond Paste (I use Odense, make sure it is almond paste, NOT marzipan)
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. flour
3 oz. butter, unsalted, room temperature
1 egg, plus 1 egg white, at room temperature
1 and 1/2 tsp. rum or brandy
Using a food processor, or a potato masher, beat or mash the almond paste with the sugar and flour until smooth. Gradually beat in the butter, eggs, and liquor. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Before using, it is best to bring it to room temperature, so it is easy to spread.
Part IV: Pear Almond Tart
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fill the tart shell with the almond custard, dumping it all in the middle and then spreading it outward with a rubber spatula. Then lay the pears in tight rows all around the outside, and then a row in the center. Bake it for 35-40 minutes, until the filling has browned.
I reduced the pear liquid on the stove for about 30 minutes, letting it bubble and simmer, but not caramelize. This is a nice syrup to drizzle over the tart when you serve it.