Whenever I think of pears I think of the scene in City of Angels where Meg Ryan explains to her angelic companion what pears taste like: “Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth.” That movie came out when I was 14, yet I still remember that description. It’s not poetry or anything. I suppose maybe those lines left a lasting impression on me because I never thought about how pears taste. Or maybe it stuck because that is exactly how pears taste. At least to me.
We’re in October already and I wanted to share something sweet to ring in the fall. But I didn’t want it to involve pumpkin. At least for now. Instead, I opted for a dessert that highlights the often ignored flavors of fall: pears and almonds, with just a hint of lavender.
This tart features pears poached in a moscato syrup with sugar, cinnamon, and lavender extract. The filling is a classic frangipane (almond pastry cream) with a citrus twist. The crust is a light but sturdy and buttery container for the flavors of fall. The tart is best served cold or cool, not at room temperature and would go really well with lavender ice cream. Which I didn’t get/make. Sigh.
Some other notes: I made this tart over the course of 3 days. I don’t mean that I spent hours upon hours laboring over it for 3 days. I mean that I didn’t have 4-5 hours to spend in one day making this, so I made each component on a different day. I made the frangipane filling on day 1, the crust on day 2, and poached the pears on day 3 (which is also the day I put everything together). The tart can be refrigerated for 3-5 days, covered well in saran wrap. That is if there are any left overs.
Pear Tart with Frangipane and a hint of Lavender
Makes 1 8″ or 9″ tart; serves 8-12
For the pears:
- 6 cups of cold ice water and the juice of 1/2 a lemon, in a bowl large enough to fit the pears (this is called “acidulated water” and will keep the pears from turning brown once they’ve been peeled)
- 4-5 Bosc pears, peeled, seeds and stems removed. Make sure they’re not too ripe as the pears will have to hold their shape after being poached. Also be sure that they all are about the same shape and size.
- 3 cups of moscato wine (or any sweet white wine)
- 1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
- juice of 1/2 a lemon, seeds removed
- 1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)
- 1 1/2 tsp. of lavender extract (use more or less, or leave it out if you’d like)
For the crust:
- 1 1/3 c. all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting and kneading
- 6 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) of very cold butter, cubed
- 3-6 tbsp of ice cold water
For the frangipane filling (slightly adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking):
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 c. of granulated sugar
- 1/3 c. flour
- 1 c. boiling milk
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract
- 1/2 c. of almond meal, lightly toasted in a pan
- 1 1/2 tsp. orange zest
First step: Make the frangipane filling.
I like to make the filling first because it refrigerates well and it doesn’t take too long to make. Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg and egg yolk on medium speed while gradually adding the granulated sugar (until the mixture is pale yellow and thickens up a bit). At this point, you’ll want to start heating up the milk in a saucepan at medium to medium-high heat (make sure the milk doesn’t scorch). As the milk heats up, gradually beat in the flour into the egg and sugar mixture on the same medium speed. Once the milk reaches the boiling point, slowly add it to the egg mixture at the same speed. When I say slowly, I mean pour it into a thin and slow stream or add it by 1/4 cup fulls until all the milk is used.
Get out a 2-3 quart saucepan (you’re going to cook the filling in there). In a small skillet pan, lightly toast the almond meal at low heat while you cook the filling. Place the egg mixture in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, using a wire whisk to stir the custard (be sure to whisk the bottom of the pan often to prevent scorching). A scary thing is going to happen: your custard will start to coagulate. That’s okay, that is supposed to happen. When the mixture starts to coagulate or get lumpy, you’re going to need a lot of elbow grease to vigorously whip the custard until it smooths out and turns into a thick paste.
Once the custard turns to a paste, turn the heat down to medium-low and stir it around using a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour. Turn off the heat and add the butter, vanilla and almond extracts, and toasted almond meal to the paste, making sure everything is incorporated evenly. If you’re not going to use the filling immediately, you can keep it in the pan, let it cool and then cover it well with saran wrap to refrigerate it. Or you can transfer the filling to a tupperware container. Up to you.
If you decided to refrigerate the filling for use at a later time, allow the filling to warm up out of the fridge before spreading it into the tart shell. It will be much more maneuverable that way.
Second step: Make the crust.
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt until everything looks evenly distributed. Throw the cubed cold butter into the bowl and use your hands to mash together the flour mix and butter between your fingers until it becomes mealy and resembles coarse crumbs. You can also use a pastry cutter if you don’t like getting your hands dirty, or you can throw those ingredients into a food processor and do the same thing. If you do it by hand you will likely have a few chunks of butter, but those will get kneaded out later. Once the mix looks like coarse crumbs, you’re going to add the ice cold water to the flour and butter mixture one tablespoon at a time while mixing the water in with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to just come together (when it starts to stick together), it’s ready to be kneaded on a counter dusted with plenty of flour. Keep in mind that the mixture may come together after 3 tablespoons of water or more, or even less, you just have to pay attention to how the dough feels and looks. And if you’re using a food processor, you’ll know the dough is wet enough because it will ball up together in the machine, ready for kneading.
Dump the dough onto the flour dusted counter to knead the dough together. If you’ve never kneaded dough, check out this tutorial on The Kitchn. The tutorial uses bread dough but the same concept applies to the dough for the tart crust: bring it together, dusting the dough with plenty of flour, press the dough together, and press forward then fold and turn and press forward again. You’ll do this until the dough looks smooth and uniform and isn’t sticky to the touch. Shape the dough into a disk, cover it in saran wrap and refrigerate it for 15 minutes. Then take the dough out of the saran wrap and dust the counter and the rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough into a circle shape until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick. Dust the dough with some flour and fold in half. Dust with some flour and fold in half again. You’ll have a triangle shaped piece of dough. You’re now ready to place your dough into a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom (it would be best if the pan was non-stick).
Transfer the dough to the pan, placing the point of the triangle in the center of the pan. Start to carefully unfold the dough until the pan is covered. Press the dough into the bottom, corners, and sides of the pan (you don’t want to press so hard that you see the metal through the dough). Trim the excess dough by rolling the rolling pin over the tops of the fluted edges of the pan. You can keep any excess dough for another mini tart, if you’d like. Poke the bottom of the tart shell with the tines of a fork or the tip of a knife a few times. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan and cover the dough, then place beans or pie weights in the shell. Bake the shell in the over for 10 minutes. Then remove the parchment paper and beans or pie weights and bake the shell for an additional 8-12 minutes, until the edges just barely start to brown. Once done, allow the shell to cool in the fluted pan completely before filling with the frangipane. Or you can do what I did: I allowed it to cool completely, then covered it in saran wrap and refrigerated it. When I was ready to fill the pastry, I took the pan out of the fridge and allowed it to warm up along with the frangipane filling. I allowed them to warm up as I made the poached pears.
Third step: Poach the pears.
Get your bowl of ice water and lemon juice ready so your pears don’t brown as you peel all of them. Using a peeler, or a paring knife, peel the skin off the pears and throw each newly peeled pear into the ice water bath. Once you’re done peeling, cut each pear in half lengthwise, removing the tough seeded core and the tough stems. Place back into the water bath.
Get your poaching liquid ready! In a large 3qt saucepan, bring the wine, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and lavender extract to a boil, whisking so as to dissolve the sugar. Lower the temperature to a simmer and place the peeled and seeded pears into the liquid. Allow the pears to poach for about 8-10 minutes, or until a knife easily pierces though the pear. If your pears are particularly ripe (like mine were), you’ll want to remove them from the liquid with a slotted spoon and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack. If your pears are not very ripe, you can take them off the heat and allow them to sit in the liquid for a few more minutes, being sure they don’t stay in so long that they can’t hold their shape. Basically, just keep an eye on them.
As the pears cool, you’re going to make the glaze for the tart. Which is going to be super easy because the glaze is simply the boiled down syrup in which you poached the pears. Bring the liquid to a medium boil and cook it down until has a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. You’ll use this on the inside of the tart shell and when you’re all set to glaze the tart.
Fourth and final step: Putting it all together.
Lightly brush the glaze on the inside of the tart shell, covering the bottom and the sides. Carefully spoon the frangipane filling into the tart shell, making the filling even across the shell.
At this point the pears should be cool enough to handle. You can slice them however you’d like but here’s how I did it: I sliced the pears lengthwise, starting about a 1/2 inch away from the top of the pear all the way to the bottom, which allowed me to fan out the slices. I placed the fanned out bottoms of the pears close to the outer edge of the tart until the edges were covered. In the center I just placed one whole half of a poached pear.
Lightly brush the pears with the glaze. You can refrigerate the completed tart in the fluted pan. When you’re ready to serve, carefully remove the tart from the pan and place on a serving dish.
I know this recipe is like a Matryoshka doll: one recipe within another recipe within another. But I promise you it’s actually simpler than it looks. And your guests will be super impressed with how delicious and professional it looks. I’ll post some video tutorials soon to help you out! In the meantime, enjoy!