A couple of years ago when we went to Paris, we stayed in a little apartment in the Marais that sat very near to a host of excellent patisseries. Every afternoon, Mr Man would go out and shop for our afternoon treat, and it quite quickly became a way of life. Needless to say when we arrived home from our vacation, at around 3 o’clock, I found myself pacing the room, feeling quite distraught and suffering from ‘fabulous pastry’ withdrawals.
I gradually overcame these feelings and eventually forgot about our little decadent ritual – until a couple of weeks ago, when Eric Kayser opened a patisserie at our front door. Now, in even less time than Mr Man took in the heart of Paris, I can get my fix and it is not even a minute away.
So, all this thinking about patisseries and fabulous French pastry got me thinking about some of my favourite treats – and this is one of them. A classic Pear and Frangipane Tart is about as good as it gets when it comes to quintessential French desserts. Slightly adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan, it is relatively quick and easy and can be made in stages over a day – or even two.
The pears are poached in a sugary syrup with just a touch of lemon to scent them. I don’t like to add to much else to the liquid – I prefer the flavour of the pear to be absolute. These are nestled in a bed of frangipane, which is essentially a baked almond cream (a luscious one at that), on top of a buttery base of pâte sablée.
I know I could easily pop next door for one of these but it is nice to know I can also whip one up myself…
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
2 ripe medium pears
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg plus 1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark rum (optional)
1 teaspoon almond extract
Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut the pears in half, remove the seed core and fibrous cores at either end, then peel the pears.
Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and reduce heat to low. Cover, and let pears poach for about 10 minutes. The pears will become slightly translucent, very tender, and easily pierced with a knife or skewer.
Let the pears cool in the liquid until room temperature before using. Or, you can store them in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Ensure you do not overwork the dough – or let it form into a large ball. If the one egg yolk is not enough, then add a fraction of water till you get shaggy clumps.
Butter a 9 inch tart tin with removable bottom. Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. You may not need all the dough – save the extra for patching the shell after you bake it.
Freeze the tart shell for at least 1 hour. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To partially bake the tart shell, take a piece of foil and butter the shiny side, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough, then cool on a rack until room temperature.
Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and combine until smooth. Add the ground almonds and blend together. Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. Process the mixture until it is very smooth. Add in the vanilla, almond extract and rum just to blend. The frangipane can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If it becomes too firm in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a while to soften before using.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the frangipane evenly into the cooled tart shell.
Take the poached pears out of their liquid and drain them on paper towels and pat dry. Cut each pear half crosswise into 3/8 in thick slices. Do not separate the pear half yet.
Slide a spatula or other flat utensil underneath the pear so you can transfer the entire half onto the tart. Press on the pear to fan the slices toward the top narrow end of the pear. Slide the pear half onto the frangipane carefully.
Repeat with three other pear halves until there are four halves on the tart, evenly spaced.
Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the frangipane is puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. Cool the tart on a wire rack.
Before serving, you can dust confectioner’s sugar over the tart.
Notes: I usually poach 3 pears, just in case I ruin one or two of the halves in the cutting process.
Source: adapted from Dorie Greenspan