Monday, November 28, 2011

Pear and Almond Tart- My New Thanksgiving Favorite

It was a crazy week last week.  Driving from California to Washington and back again.  Finding time to squeeze in as many visits with friends as possible.  Making and devouring Thanksgiving dinner.  Way too much wine and mornings that began way too early.  But we had a blast and it was so worth it.  I just wish it could have lasted longer.
I was in charge of desserts for Thanksgiving dinner (yay!  my favorite part!).  Hoping that I wouldn't cause a dessert mutiny, I decided to take a non-traditional spin on the usual Thanksgiving pies.  So I baked up a pumpkin tart with a clove-spiced chocolate crust, an apple pie wrapped up in beautiful layers of phyllo dough (so pretty I had to shoot a couple of pics of it too), and a French pear and almond tart.  And thanks to all of the adventurous eaters at our Thanksgiving table, they were all a smashing success!
Pear and Almond Tart
The wonderful result of taking the best from smitten kitchen's pear and almond tart recipe and Rose Levy Berenbaum's pear tart with almond cream from The Pie and Pastry Bible.

I bought my pears at the last minute and they were crazy unripe, so I decided to soften them up for the tart by poaching them.  The resulting pears were so flavorful, they could have been eaten on their own (and I had extra, so I did!).  I can imagine them for a special dinner with a drizzle of creme anglaise or vanilla ice cream as well as in this tart, so I'm including the recipe for them too.

For the Poached Pears:
1 bottle of Reisling
5 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
2 cinnamon sticks
4 bartlett pears, peeled, halved and cored

Combine all ingredients in a large pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat so that the liquid is at a simmer.  Cook for 30-45 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears.  You want the tip of a sharp knife to easily enter the flesh of the pear.  Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and let cool.  You can use the pears right away for dessert or refrigerate for later use.

I reduced the poaching liquid by removing the vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks and then boiling it down until it reached a third of the original volume.  The syrup that I got made a lovely glaze for the pear tart.  You could also pour it over ice cream and serve it with some sliced poached pears.
For the Tart Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
9 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks

In a food processor, pulse together the flour and sugar.  Add in the butter and pulse until the butter is in small, pea-sized pieces.  Add the egg yolks and blend just until the dough comes together in a loose ball.  If it appears too dry to be a workable dough, you can add a bit of very cold water (1-3 tsp) very slowly, stopping just when the dough has begun to clump up.  Be careful not to overwork the dough or it will become tough.  Pour the dough into a zip-top bag and press into a disk (or you could do the same with plastic wrap).  Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or freeze for 30 minutes.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it reaches a diameter of approximately 11 inches, lifting and rotating the dough occasionally to avoid sticking.  Carefully roll the dough over your rolling pin and into a 9 inch diameter tart pan.  Press the dough lightly into the corners of the pan and up over the sides.  Remove any excess overhang.  Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork several times.  Return the dough in the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Carefully but firmly, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the crust and press it into the corners.  This will hold down the dough so it doesn't puff as it bakes.  Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil.  Return the crust to the oven and bake for up to 10 minutes longer or until the crust is a light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Make the Almond Cream and Assemble the Tart:
1 heaping cup of sliced or slivered blanched almonds
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs all-purpose flour
7 tbs butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 poached pear halves

Turn the temperature of the oven down to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, place the almonds, flour and sugar and pulse until the almonds are ground very finely.  Pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside.  Place the butter in the food processor and blend until creamy.  Beat about 1/3 of the nut mixture into the butter.   Add 1 egg and another 1/3 of the nut mixture to the processor and beat until incorporated. Repeat with the second egg and the remaining nut mixture.  Beat in the vanilla.

Spread the almond cream over the bottom of the cooled crust.  Using a sharp thin knife, slice the pears into thin slices by cutting along the length of the pear all but about a 1/2 inch at the top.  Press gently on the top of the pear half to fan the slices out slightly (see photo above).  Carefully slide a spatula under the pear and place it on the tart with the pointed ends facing the center of the tart.  Repeat with the other three halves, placing each next to the other on the tart so that the slices resemble the spokes on a wheel.

Bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up and turns golden brown.  Remove from the oven and brush with the syrup made from the poaching liquid or warmed apricot preserves.

Served sliced and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


  1. may I say, as the thrilled hostess to this amazing chef and her 3 boys, I had the pleasure of inheriting the leftovers of this delicious dessert (and all the others too), and it was incredible cold for breakfast with coffee and reheated with vanilla ice cream too.....

  2. Hi! I got your cookies in the mail yesterday and just wanted to thank you! I love the spice in them!