Prepare to Swoon
This recipe is adapted from an excellent recipe by pastry chef David Lebovitz. And like his Red Wine Poached Pear Tart, his French Pear & Almond Tart is an incredibly delicious dessert—arguably my current all time favourite dessert ever. If you love the flavour of vanilla, pears and sweet almond (with notes of kirsch-soaked sour cherries popping in here and there), one bite of this tart and you’ll be transported into a heavenly realm, leaving you in a pleasantly speechless stupor.
An overload of pleasure neurons firing simultaneously in the brain may cause some guests to swoon or faint after sampling this dessert. It is advisable to keep smelling salts on hand when serving.
Be further advised that some guests may refuse to leave your home, or may appear camped out on your doorstep the next morning, begging for more.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you: Highly Addictive.
The Joy of Winter Pears
It is such a happy thing to have access to fresh winter pears once all the fresh local fruits have disappeared from the farmers market. And I love how beautiful they look simply sitting in a bowl on the countertop in the soft light of winter or early spring.
Because winter pears, such as the beautiful and bodacious Bosc pears, hold their shape and texture so well, they are perfect pears to use for making a classic Pear & Almond French Tart.
How to Make a Classic Pear & Almond French Tart
Begin by poaching your pears:
Few things warm my heart more on a chilly day than poaching pears. The fragrance alone is pure balm for the soul, filling my home with a sweet delicious aroma.
Peel, quarter, core and poach your pears in your flavoured poaching liquid.
See David Lebovitz’s informative article on poaching pears to learn how to perfectly poach pears.
There are a myriad of flavours you can use to flavour your poached pears. I love using a whole vanilla bean and about 15 black Tellicherry peppercorns, but any combination of any of the following are excellent:
- Whole Vanilla Bean Pod
- Black Peppercorn
- Star Anise
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Whole Fresh Lemon
- Fresh Ginger Root
- Red or White Wine
(Don’t go too wild adding too many flavourings into the mix; choose one to three flavours that you think would like to highlight.)
Vanilla is a heavenly flavour derived from the fruit (the bean) of the vanilla orchid. Originating in Mexico, some of the best vanilla is now grown in Madagascar and Indonesia.
Tellicherry Whole Black Peppercorns (so-called because they are from Tellicherry, a city on the Malabar coast of India). These peppercorns are larger than most as they are left on the vine to ripen for longer than usual-this allows a deep, rich flavor to develop. Tellicherry peppercorns are considered to be some of the finest peppercorns in the world. They are sweet, and have a bright fresh, often citrus-like scent. Opening a new jar of Tellicherry peppers is a treat: they have a wonderfully complex aroma.
To prepare the sweet poaching liquid, slowly warm:
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- Flavourings of your choice
Gently slip your prepared pears into the warm poaching liquid and simmer quietly until tender, about 15 to 30 minutes. (The exact time will depend on the size and type of pears you have.)
Remove from heat and allow pears to cool slowly in the poaching liquid.
Store cooled poached pears in their poaching liquid in a covered container in the refrigerator for several hours or, ideally, overnight. The longer they steep in the liquid, the more flavour the pears will develop.
Poached pears are delicious served simply in their original poaching liquid, but if you like, you can reduce the poaching liquid to intensify the flavours and create a thicker syrup. Or you can serve the pears with other sauces, such as a rich dark chocolate sauce.
While poached pears are delectable in their own right, if you really want to send yourself or your friends over-the-moon, you must try making this classic French-style Pear and Almond Tart.
Next, you’ll need a pre-baked 9-inch (23 cm) pastry shell:
I did not use David Lebovitz’s original tart shell recipe, preferring to use my regular tart shell dough recipe. David uses an interesting but unconventional method which I have yet to try.
I like using a pâte brisée pastry dough which I make in my food processor. I always have great success using the recipe for pâte brisée by Stephanie Jaworski at joyofbaking.com. Make half a recipe for this tart. It’s simple and it works every time.
If you have any leftover pastry scraps left over, roll them out, cut them into strips, dust with cinnamon sugar and bake them off. They are delicious.
Preheat your oven to 375F (180C)
Prepare the almond cream filling:
- 6 oz (170 g) almond paste
- 4 teaspoons of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of flour
- 3 ounces (85 g) butter, room temperature cubed butter
- 1/2 teaspoon Kirsch, rum or Calvados
- 1 large egg, plus one egg white (room temperature)
- a few drops of almond extract (optional, depending on how almondy you like it)
- a few drops of orange blossom water
(This is my own secret ingredient. It adds a certain je ne sais quois to the tart—a slightly exotic, perfectly subtle floral note. Use sparingly: a few drops go a long way.)
Pure almond extract is made from three primary ingredients: alcohol, water, and bitter almond oil. Often, a natural stone fruit flavouring, such as apricot, is also added.
Kirsch or kirschwasser (German for “cherry water”) is a clear, colorless fruit brandy made from morello cherries, a type of sour cherry.
In a food processor, combine the almond paste, sugar and flour, and whirl around until the almond paste is finely crumbled. Gradually add in the butter until smooth.
At this point, I remove it from the food processor to add the eggs (to avoid over-processing). Beat in the egg white, almond extract, liquor and orange blossom flower water (using a hand mixer or by hand).
Spread the filling evenly in your pre-baked pastry shell:
Fan your pears over the almond cream filling:
Cut your pears into 1/2 inch slices, drain and pat dry (don’t skip this part—you don’t want to add any extra moisture content). Carefully fan the sliced poached pears over the almond cream, pressing each slice into the filling a little.
Sometimes your pears will be large and the slices will join at the centre when you fan them out, and sometimes, with smaller sized pears, they will not join and there will be a space in the middle. If this happens, just cut some smaller pear slices to fill in the centre. It looks pretty either way.
Place 25 or so reconstituted dried sour cherries into the filling before setting the pear slices on top. Reconstitute the cherries as you wish-I like to use Kirsch.
Montmorency cherries are a variety of sour cherry. The sweet and sour bursts of cherry flavour perfectly complement the nutty apricot-like notes of the almond paste. Reconstitute the dried Montmorency cherries in kirsch, the vanilla bean black peppercorn syrup, or some other suitable liquid before adding to your tart.
For another variation, sprinkle the tart with 3 tablespoons of sliced almonds before baking.
Or, better yet, use both cherries and slivered almonds!
Place your tart on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the almond filling between the pears has turned a golden brown colour.
Reduce your poaching liquid to make a glaze for the tart:
While your tart is baking, strain your poaching liquid into a sauce pan and reduce the liquid until it starts to thicken to a desired consistency. This is liquid gold. You can use it to glaze your baked tart. Keep any leftovers—it makes a delicious addition to fruit salads or you can add a drizzle to soda water to make a delicious vanilla cream soda drink.
Try to be patient:
Cool your tart slightly before serving, or serve at room temperature.
Take it over the top:
The tart is delicious as is, but if you dare, take it over the top with an extra drizzle of vanilla pear peppercorn syrup just before serving. If possible (and I highly doubt that it is) try not to eat the entire tart in one sitting. But don’t feel bad if you do: there are few among us who could resist such a temptation.
Serve with espresso or coffee, a good quality black tea, or something even more exotic, like white tea.
For David Lebovitz’s original recipe and instructions see:
French Pear & Almond Tart
For unknown reasons, almond paste is not generally carried in our Canadian grocery stores. It seems to be a specialty item. I’ve made my own almond paste from scratch in the past and, while it is not difficult and works just fine (except that it’s impossible to grind it as finely as commercial products), it is an extra step that doesn’t allow me to be as spontaneous.
Love’n Bake is the commercial almond paste brand I’ve settled on. It was recommended by David Lebovitz. I love it because it doesn’t have any extra additives—it’s simply sugar and almonds.
I haven’t been able to find it in our city, so I mail order mine. It’s available in 10 ounce cans or in 2 1/2 pound containers. For me, it’s well worth it to order the 2 1/2 pound container as I adore anything with almond paste in it, so it always gets used up, in pignoli (Italian pine nut cookies), amaretti cookies, Italian almond cake, and Italian almond tart, as well as, of course, Pear & Almond French Tart.
Note that almond paste is not the same thing as marzipan, which is much sweeter than almond paste.
If you live in Canada and can’t find a good almond paste where you are, here’s an excellent Canadian mail order source for Love’n Bake:
Image Credits: All photos by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2014 madlyinlovewithlife