Sunday, April 19, 2009

My tartpan runneth over

While browsing food blogs a few months ago, I ran across a group of bloggers called "Tuesdays with Dorie." It's a group of bakers who take turns picking a recipe every week, and on every Tuesday, they blog about making the recipe. The recipes are chose from Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking: From my home to yours." In order to join, they only ask two things: That you purchase the book so you can participate, and that you participate at least two weeks a month.

While I was interested in joining, I decided to pass for now because:
1. Did not have the book.
2. Didn't think I'd consistently bake and post on Tuesdays.
3. Don't have a whole lot of baking paraphernalia.

Back in January, I saw this post on Dorie's blog. I thought it was really cool that she was supportive of the group, and I figured she knew what she was talking about when she says this is one of her favorite recipes. When an amazing baker tells you what their favorite recipe is, it's probably a pretty darn good recipe to try. This isn't a recipe that would normally catch my eye, but Dorie's description of it certainly caught my attention.

Unfortunately, I don't own a tartpan. It was on my to-buy list, but since I don't like hasn't wandered home with me yet. However, a month ago I was "helping" my mother-in-law in the kitchen and stumbled across a set of small tartpans, and warned her then that I would be borrowing them in the near future. I finally snagged them, and I can't believe I waited this long to try the recipe. I had skimmed through it several times, but honestly didn't realize how easy it was. The almond cream mixed up quickly in the food processor, and then refrigerated. The crust was mixed up in the food processor and then frozen for a bit. Then when I came home later that night, I popped the crusts in the oven to pre-bake, sliced up the canned pears and set them on paper towels to dry. After letting the crusts cool for 15 minutes, I added the almond cream and pears and popped in the oven for 50 minutes. That was it. And I had a very yummy and impressive dessert for my efforts. The crust was cookie-like, the cream was tasty, and the browned parts were caramelized. I dug in about 15 minutes after pulling it from the oven, so it was still all nice and warm. Nom, nom!


Adapted from "Baking: From my home to yours"

Makes 6 servings

For the pears:
6 canned pear halves
OR 3 medium pears, firm but ripe

1 lemon
4 cups water, optional
1 1/4 cups sugar, optional

For the almond cream:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 partially-baked 9-inch tart shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough (see below), at room temperature

Confectioners' sugar for dusting, or apple jelly for glazing

Getting ready: If you are using canned pears, you have nothing to do now. If you are using fresh pears but do not wish to poach them, you have nothing to do now. If you are using fresh pears and want to poach them, peel them and leave them whole. Bring the 4 cups water, the 1 1/4 cups sugar and the juice of the lemon to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat so the syrup simmers and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup.

To make the almond cream: Put the butter and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend. If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula. In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order. Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours.

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have a lined baking sheet at the ready. If you are using fresh (unpoached) pears, peel them now. If you are using poached or unpoached pears, cut them in half from blossom to stem and core them; rub the unpoached pears with lemon juice. Whatever pears you have, make sure to pat them dry - really dry - so that their liquid won't keep the almond cream from baking.

Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal icing spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream. The halves will form spokes.

Put the crust on the lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding.

Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners' sugar. If you prefer, prepare a glaze by bringing about 1/4 cup apple jelly and1/2 teaspoon water to the boil. Brush the glaze over the surface of the tart.

Serving: This tart goes very well with aromatic tea.

Storing: If it's convenient for you, you can make the almond cream up to 2 days ahead and keep it closely covered in the refrigerator, or you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; defrost before using. You can also poach the pears up to 1 day ahead. However, once you've baked the tart, you should be prepared to enjoy it that same day.

Playing around: The almond cream is a great companion for a variety of fruits. It's as good with summer fruits, like apricots or peaches, as it is with autumn's apples.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

To make the dough: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely - you'll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that's just fine. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Very lightly and sparingly - make that very, very lightly and sparingly - knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

If you want to press the dough into a tart pan, now is the time to do it.

If you want to chill the dough and roll it out later (doable, but fussier than pressing), gather the dough into a ball (you might have to use a little more pressure than you used to mix in dry bits, because you do want the ball to be just this side of cohesive), flatten it into a disk, wrap it well and chill it for at least 2 hours or for up to 1 day.

To make a press-in crust: Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be stingy - you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it. Also, don't be too heavy-handed - you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don't want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly shortbreadish texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To make a rolled-out crust: This dough is very soft - a combination of a substantial amount of butter and the use of confectioners' sugar - so I find it is easier to roll it between wax paper or plastic wrap or, easiest of all, in a roll-out-your-dough slipcover. If you use the slipcover, flour it lightly. Roll the dough out evenly, turning the dough over frequently and lifting the wax paper or plastic wrap often, so that it doesn't roll into the dough and form creases. If you've got time, slide the rolled out dough into the fridge to rest and firm for about 20 minutes before fitting the dough into the buttered tart pan. Trim the excess dough even with the edge of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

***I used 4 5-inch tartpans. I filled them to the top with the almond cream, not realizing how much it puffed up, so one of the tarts spilled over. My tartpans were also teflon coated and dark, so my crusts ended up very brown. Not burnt, but not as pretty as I'd like. I would probably drop the oven temp 25 degrees next time if I use the same tartpans. Also, one 5-inch tart is a bit much for a single person. It was really good, and I finished it, but it was more than I needed. Especially since I think the tart would go really well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Smaller tart pans would probably be wise if you wanted individual servings and don't want to weigh 500 pounds. Remember, there's 2 sticks of butter in this there's half a stick of butter in each of those 5-inch tarts I made.

When making the crust, I tried pressing the dough in since I thought that would be easiest. I didn't care for the mottled appearance, so I ended up rolling out the dough instead. Sort of. I don't like my rolling pin, it's big and bulky and heavy, so I rolled the dough into a circle, then just flattened it. Once it was big enough, I peeled it off the wax paper and popped it into the pan. MUCH easier this way.


csa said...

i've got two 11inch tart pans and four little ones. alot easier to use the big tart pans.

csa said...

by the by press the crust in with a rounded edge glass or measuring cup. i used a similar crust for my caramel pecan tart.

nital said...

Mmm...caramel pecan tart...that sounds yummy.

The small tart pans weren't that difficult. When I rolled out the crust, I only had a 6 inch round of crust to work with at a time, which wasn't bad.

csa said...