Finding Reprieve in a Pear Vanilla Tart

I admit. I’ve been hanging on to this recipe since last Christmas. I felt guilty about not sharing it for a while as I wrote about Parisian gnocchi, shortbread, and a bunch of Wisconsin chocolate shops instead; but now it seems there was a reason for keeping this post in my back pocket. To tell you the truth, I need a break. I need to do something that I did before everything got so chaotic. I need to pretend that all my baking pans and spatulas aren’t packed away in boxes, that I can walk around my apartment without stepping precariously around piles of things yet to be packed, and that I don’t have a three hour oral exam (and the pinnacle of my academic career to date) less than two weeks away. Instead, I’m going to pretend that I baked you this beautiful tart (and that I didn’t have to clear away the clutter from the kitchen table to photograph it for you).

I can’t say this recipe is seasonal; the stores and markets are full of stone fruits and berries, and here I am telling you about pears baked in almond cream. It really is more of a wonderful, comforting tart to enjoy between October to March when the nights are cool or colder and fresh summer fruits are foggy memories.

Instead of going through the hassle to purchase fresh spices and poach the pears myself, this tart takes advantage of canned pears. Cook them down in their own juices (steer clear of the ones canned in light or heavy syrup) with a vanilla pod scraped of its seeds, and these pears take on tantalizing subtle caramel and vanilla flavors.

Set the pears into a buttery, tender, blind-baked pate brisee and surround them with almond cream. I promise when this comes out of the oven you won’t want to wait for it to cool; but if you do, you’ll have a dessert equally perfect for the end of a special occasion meal or a cozy night in with leftovers for breakfast.  Serve with a lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. But now this memory is fading, and the reality of readying two manuscripts for submission before my defense settles back in…

Vanilla Pear Frangipane Tart
(adapted from here)
This tart looks elegant in a long fluted tart pan, but feel free to use any size you have. A shallow pie dish could work too, or use muffin tins for individually sized tarts. For a more summery feel, swap the canned pears for fresh peaches. You’ll want to blanch and peel the peaches first, and I’ve included notes at the bottom to do so.
Pate Brisee
1/2 Cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 Cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
2 cans pear halves in pear juice
1 vanilla bean pod
Almond Cream
1/2 Cup butter
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
seeds from vanilla bean
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 Cup almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
For the Crust:
Pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor to mix. Cut cold butter into small cubes and pulse into flour until crumbly. Add egg and pulse until dough becomes sandy. Do not process until it forms a ball or your crust will be tough. Sprinkle the dough into your pan and press it to the edges. Chill for 1 hr.
Preheat your oven to 325°. Line the crust with foil and fill with dry beans, rice, or pie weights. Blind bake the crust for 15 minutes, then remove the weights and foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes
For Pears:
Empty the pear halves and juices into a shallow, wide pan. Add the empty vanilla bean pod and turn the burner on medium low. Cook the pears until the juices have reduced to a thick syrup, then remove from heat. 
For the Almond Cream:
Beat the softened butter with the sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the extracts. Mix in the almond flour and salt just until incorporated
To assemble:
Spread the almond cream evenly in the blind baked crust. Gently push the pear halves cut side down into the almond cream. Spread any remaining pear syrup and vanilla seeds onto the tops of the pears. Bake the tart over a baking sheet to catch drips for 45-55 minutes until the almond cream puffs up and turns golden brown. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
To substitute peaches:
Purchase smallish, ripe (but not super soft) nectarines or peaches. Cut a shallow X in the skin at the bottom of the peach. Heat a pan of water to boiling, then drop the peaches in for 30 seconds. Remove the peaches and immediately drop them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cooled, you should be able to peal the skin away from the flesh starting at the X. Cut the peaches into halves. Put the peaches cut side down in the pan with the vanilla bean pod. For the poaching liquid, I would use a 1:1 mixture of apple juice and a sweet white wine to come half way up the peach halves. You could also use a bit of sherry instead, but maybe a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio instead.

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