Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pear and Almond Tart

Imagine my shock when I read an article that describe the pear as a fruit with an elegant shape. Elegant shape? The Pear? Seriously?

 Now, pears are actually one of my favourite fruits, especially when they've ripened nicely and are creamy (almost buttery) and sweet. But I've never looked at them as being particularly elegant.


Well, maybe it's because my pear-shape body looks nothing close to elegant. No, really! Nothing close. Not by a mile. Sigh.

But, we're here to talk food. So let's talk about the pear. Elegance aside, the pear is a fruit that I've never cooked/baked with before. Why? Well, I guess I like to eat them raw; as a fruit not as an ingredient in a dish.

What changed? December turned out to be a particularly eventful month for me and I found myself eating out a lot more than usual. The result? A bag of pears that was left uneaten in my fridge for three weeks.

Three weeks! Well, maybe four. Eeks.

As a rule, pears are best plucked from the tree just before they are ripe and are left to ripen in room temperature. When I bought the pears, they were about three or four days (my estimate) short of being perfectly ripe. But three/four weeks? I was, quite frankly, afraid to touch them for fear they may be overripe, squishy and bruised. What a waste, right?

Well, as it turns out, they weren't too bad. Just barely over ripe and just a wee bit discoloured. I ate one but decided to bake the other three ... in a tart. Typically, it is better to bake a pear when it is slightly under ripe rather than over ripe. But I had confidence in these babies.

I paired it with some shaved almonds (another ingredient I had sitting in my fridge for a good while) and a basic custard and it turned out pretty good.

Pear and Almond Cream Tart
(Adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

For the pastry
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
130g butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup ice water

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and, using a mixer or your fingers, work it into the flour till you get what resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the egg and mix it into the crumbly flour till it begins to stick together. Add the water, a little at a time, until a dough forms. You may not need to use all the water, so make sure you don't pour the entire amount at one go.
Shape the dough into a disc, wrap and chill for at least 30 mins.

For the filling
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
3 eggs
pinch of salt
140g butter, softened
11/4 cups icing sugar
2 cups shave almonds, lightly toasted
4-5 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered

Pour the milk in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer.
Whisk the sugar with just 1 tbsp of the corn starch and the salt. Whisk in 1 egg. Pour the milk into the mixture and whisk to mix. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and heat, whisking all the while, until it begins to thicken and bubble at the sides (about 3 mins). Remove, strain into a bowl and whisk in just 2 tbsp of the butter.  Leave to cool.

Add the remaining butter and almonds in the bowl of your mixer and beat it gently to incorporate the two. The almonds will break in pieces but that's ok. Add the sugar, the remaining 2 tbsp corn starch and 2 eggs and the custard beat till mixed together perfectly, about 2 mins.

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Remove the pastry from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll it to meet a 10-inch tart tin. It should be 1/4 cm thick; transfer into the tart dish, pressing it close to the edges.

Pour the cream into the pastry shell and arrange the quartered pears into the custard. Top with more shaved almonds (if you wish).

Bake for 80 mins or until the custard is set.

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