Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Classic French Pear Tart—Made Two Ways....and a Basic Recipe for Poached Pears

I have a pies and tarts class coming up next week. One of the things I will be teaching is Pear & Frangipane tart. I think I mentioned in my recent Peach & Raspberry Galette post that I think frangipane is one of the finest things to ever come out of the French pastry kitchen. In the galette, the frangipane is somewhat of a background player. In the pear tart it shares the stage equally with the pears. If you have spent any time in France...and you like pears and/or is likely you have tasted this tart. A classic for a reason, it is truly wonderful.

My favorite way to make this tart is with pears that I have poached myself. But it is also commonly made with high quality canned pears (packed in syrup). Some recipes for this tart call for fresh pears. I have never made it this way, but it makes sense to me that fresh pears would work just fine since the frangipane would absorb the juices of the pears as they bake. Because I wanted to see if there was enough of a difference between the tart made with fresh and the tart made with poached to warrant poaching the pears, I thought I would give the fresh pear version a try before I taught my class.

Rather than making two tarts for a side by side comparison, I decided to make just one tart with poached pears on one half and fresh on the other. This didn't make a tart as uniformly beautiful as usual, but I really didn't need to eat two whole tarts this week....(not that I really need to eat one whole tart either....)

In the end, I discovered that the tart really is better when made with the poached least, in my opinion. Every bite seems to be somehow more perfumed with the aromatic flavor of the pears. And since I add a bit of white wine and some clove and citrus zest to my poaching liquid, there is an added dimension of flavor that the fresh pear version lacks. There is nothing wrong with the fresh pear tastes good and it looks beautiful. I would definitely make it and serve it without apology if I were pressed for time. But if you have the time, the tart really is more flavorful and more elegant if the pears are poached. Poaching pears isn't just have to plan ahead.

Whether you are poaching an egg, a piece of fish, or some fruit, you can't go wrong if you remember that poaching is a gentle cooking process....sort of the equivalent of a warm bath. For fruit, the goal is fruit that is tender through and is still holding its original shape. To obtain this, the liquid should never boil, or simmer hard. A faint simmer is sufficient.

The poaching liquid for fruit is a sugar syrup. The proportion of sugar needed in the syrup is technically related to the amount of sugar contained in the fruit in question, but for most fruits a syrup made up of half as much sugar by weight as liquid (water or a combination of water and wine) works well. The sugar sweetens the fruit and also helps to firm up the cell structure of the fruit so it will maintains its shape. (To illustrate, Madeleine Kamman points out that when cooked in pure water, an apple disintegrates, becoming applesauce.)

To poach pears for the Pear & Frangipane Tart: Choose a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. For 3 or 4 pears (such as Bartlett, Bosc or Anjou) place 4 cups of water (or half water and half white wine) in the saucepan and add 2 cups of sugar. If you like, you may add any number of flavorings of your choice (a strip or 2 of lemon or orange zest, a cinnamon stick, a couple of whole cloves, or a split and scraped vanilla bean). For the tart pictured, I poached Bartlett pears and used a dry white wine and added a strip of lemon zest and a couple of cloves. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for few minutes. Add the peeled, halved and cored pears and lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer.

To keep the pears submerged while they poach, prepare a parchment "lid" (called a cartouche). Cut a round of parchment that is just larger than the surface area of the pan. Cut a hole in the center of it. The hole will allow the steam coming off of the barely simmering liquid to escape. Press the round of parchment to the surface of the poaching liquid.

The pears are done when a small skewer or the tip of a knife will slide in and out of the pears without resistance. Cooking time varies greatly depending on the variety and ripeness of the pears—start checking after 10 minutes for ripe pears.

Cool and store the pears in the refrigerator in their poaching liquid. If made the day before, the pears will continue to absorb the flavors you have added to the poaching liquid and will taste even better in the tart. Drain and dry the pears well (reserving the poaching liquid if you like for other uses) before building the tart.

If you don't have the time to poach the pears (or just don't want to), make sure that the pears you choose are ripe enough to eat. Peel the pears only when you are ready to build the tart. Halve and core the peeled pears and rub all over with lemon juice. Slice and place the pears on the tart exactly as directed to for the poached pears.

Sliced pear halves--fresh (left) and poached (right)
Poached pears fanned on the tart like the spokes of a wheel

Astute regular readers will notice that the recipe for frangipane in this tart is slightly different than the one I gave for my Peach & Raspberry Galette. Classic frangipane is made with equal quantities of almonds, sugar and butter, plus egg and a small amount of flour and almond (or vanilla) extract. The standard recipe that I usually make calls for 4 oz. each of almonds, sugar, flour and butter, 2 eggs plus 2 T. of flour. For the Pear and Frangipane tart, you only need 3/4 of this amount—enough to fill the tart shell half way.

In the recipe below, I have simply given quantities to make 3/4 of a standard recipe—exactly enough for one nine inch tart. To make measuring easier, I called for 1 egg plus 1 egg white instead of one and a half eggs. If it is easier for you, simply use one and one half eggs. Either way, you won't have to worry about what to do with the leftover frangipane.

Although, from my perspective, having leftover frangipane is not a great hardship. It just so happens that after making a full recipe you would have enough frangipane left over to line a fresh fruit galette. Peach season is over, but as noted in my earlier post, frangipane would make an excellent base for a plum or fig galette...both of which are in season now. Of course, if you (like me) don't need to eat two tarts this week, that extra 1/2 cup of frangipane could be packed away and frozen....ready and waiting for the day when you do feel the need to make (and eat) a fresh fruit galette....

Slice with fresh (unpoached) pear

Pear & Frangipane Tart

3 oz. slivered blanched almonds (about 3/4 c.)
3 oz. sugar (about 7 T.)
3 oz. unsalted butter (6 T.), softened
1 whole egg
1 egg white
1/4 t. almond extract
1 1/2 T. flour

6 poached pear halves (recipe below—or can use canned pear halves)

1 unbaked 9-inch tart shell (Sweet Tart Dough/Pâte Sablé)

Make the Frangipane:
Creaming method: Place the almonds and 1 T. of sugar in the food processor and process until the almonds are very fine. Cream the butter with the remaining sugar. Cream in the ground almonds. Beat in the whole egg and the white. Beat in the almond extract and then the flour.

Food processor method: Place the almonds and the sugar in the food processor and process until the almonds are very fine. Add the butter and process until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add the whole egg and process just to combine. Add the egg white and the extract. Process again just until smooth. Sprinkle the flour over and pulse to combine.

Frangipane may be used right away, but it is easiest to work with if chilled until firm enough to spread. Frangipane may also be made ahead and frozen.

Build the tart: Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and pat dry. Place each half, cut side down, on a cutting board and cut crosswise into thin slices. Press lightly on each sliced pear half to fan it toward the narrow and of the pear. Using an offset spatula, transfer the sliced and fanned pear halves to the frangipane, arranging them around the tart like the spokes of a wheel with the narrow portion of each pear pointing toward the center.

Alternatively, slice the pear halves lengthwise into 5 or 6 slices and arrange the slices in a decorative pattern. Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake at 350° until the frangipane is puffed and golden brown—about 50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

When the tart is cool, dredge lightly with powdered sugar. You may also glaze the tart. Reduce 3/4 cup of the poaching liquid to a syrup (3 to 4 T.). When cool, brush the syrup lightly over the surface of the tart. Serves 8.  Chill any leftover portions.

Sweet Tart Dough (Pâte Sablé)

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 T. granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 t. vanilla
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 cake flour

Briefly cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla. Add the flours and mix until well combined—the dough will form clumps and all the flour will have been absorbed. Form the dough into a thick disk. Use immediately, or wrap in plastic and chill or freeze. Let the dough soften before rolling out.

On a lightly floured board (or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap), roll dough out to a thickness of 1/8- to 3/16-inch. Brush off the excess flour and transfer the dough to a greased tart pan. Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan. Use your hands to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan.

Note: This amount of dough is enough for 1 1/2 9-inch tarts. I generally make up a double batch and divide it into 3 disks of dough. Freeze the disks that you don’t need. Use within 3 to 4 months.


Katrina said...

I just left you a nice long comment that I don't think went through. sigh I'll wait and see.

Gorgeous tart. Love fanning the fruit out like that and frangipane is divine!

Paige said...

Hi Katrina, I've had that happen to me before too...I type and type and then blogger won't accept it... Oh well, thanks for commenting!

Katrina said...

Funny--Kevin came home from work last night with a bag of 10 of the most perfect looking, cutest (smallest) pears someone at work brought him from their tree. Whatever shall I do?
Question--would almond flour work in place of grinding the blanched almonds with sugar? I have a bag of almond flour.

Paige said...

Yes, almond flour (finely ground almonds) will work just fine. Use the weights measurement and the creaming method.

ProfMicken said...

Hi, Paige! For those who do not like frangipane (hard to believe, but true ), is there an alternative that might work? We were thinking about a pastry cream, but thought that might not rise up among the fanned pears. Thanks!

Paige said...

Hi Kathy! Pastry cream would work. I don't know if it will rise up the same way. I think I might cut the pears in lengthwise wedges and arrange them in concentric circles if I used pastry cream. Another option is pound cake. If you look at the quantities of the ingredients in frangipane, it is very similar to pound cake (you could essentially replace the almonds with their weight in flour and omit the extra flour in the recipe). Prepare it with the creaming method (cream butter and sugar; beat in egg and vanilla; fold in flour and a pinch of salt).

I hope this helps! Let me know what you do and how it turns out!

ProfMicken said...

Paige, Thank you!!!

Cynthia G. said...

Made this recipe with poached pears. Added some slices of fresh ginger root to the syrup along with some whole cloves. Made frangipane using almond paste. Was fantastic! Would definitely make again!

Paige said...

Sounds delicious!