Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recipe: Pear and Almond Tart (Τάρτα Αμύγδαλο και Αχλάδια)

My friend Teeny had her own recipe disaster last week. Her problem had the same cause as mine: a restaurant cookbook that hadn’t been adequately vetted for home use.

Teeny attempted a Pear and Almond Tart that looked good on paper. However, the 12” tart had 2 sticks of butter in the crust and 3 sticks of butter in the filling (a little less than a 1/2 stick butter per serving). Since the recipe said to cook it at 300°F for only 40 minutes, the unfortunate tart came out of the oven a partially cooked, slagged down mess.

I decided to come up with an alternate version. I studied the recipe; its flaws were too significant to bother modifying it. I started from scratch with only the concept in mind.

My first attempt looked gorgeous. I was afraid if I cut into it at home, I’d have “an accident” and eat it all myself. Instead, I took it to the sushi restaurant where I was lunching with friends. A whole table of tasters; nothing is better for food in beta testing.

The tart was tasty. Everyone liked it, although one taster thought it a little sweet. I liked the flavor, but the texture of the almond filling was off.

When I got home, I tried again. I made three different variations of the filling, and baked them in separate ramekins. I changed the proportions of eggs, sugar, and flavorings. When the three came out of the oven, the filling using egg whites only was my clear favorite.

I tried a final batch and added a little lemon peel to the egg white filling, and it was exactly what I’d been aiming for. The filling was rich with ground almonds, slightly crunchy on the top, and laced with the full clear flavor of pear.

Pear and Almond Tart is easy to make, easy on the eyes, and easy to enjoy.

Pear and Almond Tart (Τάρτα Αμύγδαλο και Αχλάδια)
Makes one 9” tart – Serves 8
Ground almond meal can be substituted for the whole almonds, and is a good choice for those who don’t have a food processor. Bob’s Red Mill, a brand available in many US supermarkets, sells ground almond meal. Health food stores often carry almond meal in the refrigerator section. If you have leftover almond meal, store it in the refrigerator as it can easily turn rancid. I used unblanched almonds in the tart because almond skins have abundant antioxidants and also taste good; blanched almonds work fine too. Apples may be substituted for the pears in this tart.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2 Tbsp.)
1 egg, whisked to combine the white and yolk

1 1/2 cups whole unblanched almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp. pure almond extract
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel

2 large ripe pears
Sugar for sprinkling on top of tart

Make the crust: Mix the flour, powdered sugar, salt, and lemon peel together in a food processor. Cut the butter into 3/4” squares, add to the food processor, and pulse five or six times to break up and distribute the butter. When you are done, the butter pieces should be the size of small lentils. Add the whisked egg and pulse to mix. Pinch together some of the dough to see if it holds together (it should). If it does not, add small amounts of water, pulsing to mix, until the dough holds together when pinched.

Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, press the dough together, and shape it into a flat disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Roll out the dough on a well-floured pastry cloth until it forms a 10 1/2 inch circle. Use the rolling pin to lift the dough and place it over a 9” tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough firmly into the sides and bottom of the tart pan. Cut the edges of the dough so there is just enough to fold under and cover the sides of the pan with a double layer of dough. Use a fork to prick tiny holes all over the bottom crust.

Press a double layer of aluminum foil onto the dough (this will prevent it from bubbling up when it bakes). Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 minutes or until the crust is set and lightly golden. Remove the tart crust from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Reduce the oven heat to 350°F.

Make the filling: Put the almonds and sugar in the food processor and process until the almonds are very finely ground. Add the egg whites and almond extract and process until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides from time to time. Add the lemon peel and pulse to evenly distribute.

Make the tart: Spread the almond filling in the bottom of the pre-baked tart crust.

Peel the pears and cut them in half. Use a melon baller or teaspoon to scoop out the core. Place each pear half flat on a cutting board, and cut crosswise into 1/8” slices. Keep the slices together in the shape of a half pear. Remove the last three slices from the wide end of each half pear and reserve. Lightly push down the slices in each half pear to fan them out, fanning from the narrow end to the wide end.

With a spatula, carefully lift each fan of pear slices and place it on top of the almond filling, with the narrow end at the center, and the four fans of pear slices spaced evenly apart. Put the reserved three slices from each pear half in the spaces between the pear fans. Lightly press the pears into the filling. Sprinkle the pears with granulated sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F. Turn the heat down to 300°F and cook for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and the tart golden.

Serve plain or with scoops of vanilla gelato.

This is my entry for In the Bag, with the ingredients being pears, lemons, and nuts, hosted by A Slice of Cherry Pie.


Núria said...

Hola Laurie! Thanks for visiting my blog!
I admire your obstination in getting the perfect recipe/ingredients! The cake looks great and I bet it tasted wonderful!

Peter M said...

I was a bout to post that this need ice cream and I see you finished off with that suggestion.

I don't care if it's winter, I'm having ice cream!

Elly said...

Wow, this looks fabulous! :::drool:::

Susan said...

I don't even think a higher temp & a longer bake time would have saved the original recipe. Sometimes more isn't better, even w/ butter.

Laurie, your new & improved version looks like a rustic quilt, dense and plump.

Minti said...

I like that you experimented with different recipes and came up with one you liked. Pears and almonds sounds like a very nice combination for a tart.

Maryann said...

Yeah. I'm always having "accidents" like that :)

Chris said...

I am a huge fan of tarts like this! And, thanks for letting us know about Bob's Red Mill. I hadn't realized they had almond meal.

Laurie Constantino said...

Nuria, I really like your blog and was glad I found it. And, yes, I am just a wee bit obstinate. Glad you liked the tart.

Peter, how could I forget the ice cream? Us Northerners like the cold stuff, winter or summer..

Elly, thank you!

Susan, I agree completely - that recipe was whacked and unsalvagable. I like my butter, but 5 sticks in one tart? Yikes! A rustic quilt -- I love the image.

I'm glad you liked it, Minti!

Maryann, I'm glad to know I'm not the only "accident-prone" person around.

Chris, I just noticed the Bob's Red Mill almond meal last year. It's not cheap, but it sure is tasty.

Ivy said...

What a lovely recipe. Pears are seasonal and I love them.

teeth whitening said...

I have had several tart varities, but never a pear and almond. It sounds and looks absolutely delicious though.

Kevin said...

Nice looking tart!

Laurie Constantino said...

Ivy, me too. When it's pear season we always have them around.

Teeth W., if you've never had it, you should try it, they go really well together, especially with the lemon peel included.

Kevin, thanks!

Cakelaw said...

What a gorgeous looking tart - it would take pride of place at any dinner table.

Pixie said...

Wow, you are such a dedicated cook trying out 3 different versions and showing us your perfect tart. Looks delish!