Thursday, November 14, 2013
Pear Custard Tart
I've been on a pie-baking frenzy this fall, and I don't think I've run out of steam yet! The latest is this Pear Custard Tart. Bartlett pears are poached with vanilla bean and orange peel, then layered in a buttery crust and soaked in a vanilla custard before being baked and topped with toasted almonds. It sounds amazing, and yet the result is understated. The first day I found it plain and was a bit disappointed, but on the second day the flavors had developed -- the pears had more of a presence and the custard and almonds complemented them well.
I'm chalking the difference up to using pears that could have been more ripe, and not including the brandy the recipe called for. We rarely have hard stuff in the house, but this simple tart could use something to punch it up. I would definitely make it again, using riper pears and the brandy. The tart doesn't have loud flavors: no chocolate, cinnamon, clove, or cayenne. Still, it's gorgeous, elegant, and tasty (at least on the second day), and would make a light but showy finish to a Thanksgiving feast.
Pear Custard Tart
Adapted from Williams Sonoma
For the crust
1¼ cups pastry flour (or substitute all-purpose)
Pinch of salt
8 tbs cold unsalted butter
¼ cup water
For the pears
3 cups water
¾ cup sugar
3 ripe but firm pears, quartered and cored
Peel of 1 orange, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
Half a vanilla bean
For the rest
½ cup plus 1 tbs granulated sugar
3 tbs. all-purpose flour
½ cup half-and-half
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 2 tbs brandy (optional)
Pinch of salt
¼ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Make the dough. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter, and pulse until the butter is about the size of small peas in the flour. Add most of the cold water, and pulse a few times. Check the dough by squeezing a small fistful. If the dough holds together, it's ready. If it's still too dry, sprinkle in a few drops of water and pulse a few times, then test it again. Don't overmix the dough or add too much water, or it will be tough.
Empty the dough into a large bowl and knead just until it comes together in a cohesive ball. Flatten it into a disc, wrap the disc lightly in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days. If chilling for longer than 30 minutes, let the dough come to room temperature for 20 minutes for ease of rolling.
Poach the pears. To poach the pears, cut a circle of parchment paper that will fit in a medium saucepan. Cut a small circle in the middle of the parchment. In the saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the pears and orange peel. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with the back of a paring knife; add the pod and seeds to the saucepan. Lay the parchment in the saucepan to submerge the pears. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers gently and poach the pears until just tender, about 15 minutes. Let the pears cool in the poaching liquid.
Make the pie. Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 13-inch round. Transfer to a 10-inch tart pan and ease the dough into the pan. Trim away any excess dough. Line the tart shell with parchment and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the crust is dried out and just starting to color a bit, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights. Let the crust cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.
Cut each pear quarter lengthwise into 4 slices, then lay most of the pear slices in the crust in an overlapping circle close to the rim. Use the remaining slices to fill the middle.
In a bowl, beat together the egg and the ½ cup sugar until thick and pale. Beat in the flour and then the half-and-half, vanilla and salt. Pour the custard evenly over the pears. Bake until the custard starts to puff up, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the toasted almonds and the 1 tablespoon of sugar over the top of the tart. Continue to bake until the custard is set and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool until warm or room temperature before slicing and serving.