I recently purchased Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home To Yours and I love reading all her recipes -- they seem to be so down-to-earth, rustic and truly comforting. You really feel like these recipes are meant to be baked only for your family and a few close friends for a very intimate gathering. Having bookmarked a lot of the recipes in the breakfast sweets and cake sections of the book, I stumbled upon an interesting and--judging from the ingredients--a surely tasty tart called the French Pear Tart which is comprised of a sweet dough crust filled with luscious almond cream and topped with thin slices of pears. I usually avoid these tarts and pies sections in whatever cookbooks I have as I know very well the lengths involved in making even just the tart shell--having to clear so much counter space just to roll your dough then having to knead and rest, then roll and rest again....makes me tired even thinking about it!
But I went ahead with so much confidence on this one because the tart crust doesn't require any form of rolling at all. After a slight kneading, you just put all the dough inside the tart pan and flatten it evenly against the bottom and edges with your fingers. In fact, all the components in this recipe (except the pears of course), from the filling to the dough, can be mixed using the food processor alone. But Dorie still gave procedures for making this tart using the Kitchenaid but I feel it's unnecessary in this case. The recipe seemed so easy and convenient for me as even the pears you use for the topping can be canned ones which in fact, to Dorie's amazement, are also used by French chefs whenever they make this tart. She still gave a choice to use either fresh or poached pears though, the latter she states as being the best out of the 3 pear options. I only had fresh red d'anjou pears (a rarity over here) on hand that I just bought yesterday and since I was feeling somewhat energetic and really in the mood to bake, I even chose to poach them as well! I've never poached pears before but now I know how easy it is to do and how quickly the pears cook which was even way less than the time indicated. And I must say that the poached pears, eaten alone, tasted really good! I'm hooked! I can imagine it being really delicious paired with sweetened mascarpone enriched with marsala or port or any liqueur or even paired with cream cheese lightened with whipped cream.
After poaching the pears I went straight to making the crust as this required at least 30 minutes inside the freezer before baking. My only complaint with Dorie's recipe though is that she didn't indicate the exact dimensions of the tart pan required and only wrote that it should be 9" (which are sold in varying heights). I only had a 9 x 1" tart pan and I know now that this is not deep enough for this crust as I ended up with a very thick bottom crust which left only a shallow space for the almond cream. It never occurred to me at that time to remove some of the dough to make more room for the filling but I wish I did because several minutes into the baking time, the almond cream bubbled up and spilled over the sides and pooled around the pan (good thing it was placed on top of a baking pan!). I thought then that this was going to end up in disaster but thankfully the spilling stopped and the top continued to brown as expected. Another mistake I made was that I fully baked the shell instead of pre-baking it which made the sides of the crust a little darker than I wanted. Good thing it didn't get completely burnt and bitter.
VERDICT: The crust and almond cream were a little on the rich side which didn't surprise me at all given the amount of butter required to make both. Somehow the butter contained in both the crust and filling overpowered the delicate flavor of the pears which I believe should've been complemented by another ingredient that's just as light and delicate. I also thought the flavor of the almonds would shine through in the cream but it was yet again overpowered by the taste of butter. I think this would've been an excellent tart if the butter was reduced significantly and almond extract or Amaretto liqueur were added to the filling instead of the rum and vanilla extract. My husband loved it though -- had 2 slices after dinner and said to keep a few slices more for tomorrow :) This alone is incentive enough for me to make this again (but with a few changes).