I love to use seasonal, fresh fruits and produce whenever I can, especially if I can work them into a recipe that prominently shows them off at their very best. With spring right around the corner, this poached pear and brown butter tart pays due reverence to one of winter’s sweetest fruits just before it goes out of season.
French meal, French dessert
Ideal for a chilly evening, this at once sweet and nutty dessert is deeply rooted in traditional French cuisine. For a truly French-inspired meal, try making this tart the pièce de résistance after Coq au Vin, a wonderfully flavorful and satisfying French classic equally perfect for a wintry night.
Keep your technique simple
I have to confess that tarts are one of my favorite foods to make — and almost immediately devour. You can hardly go wrong when flaky, buttery crust meets rich, creamy filling. And their versatility is almost as appealing as their nearly fail-safe deliciousness. But bakers be warned: perfecting a classic is never easy.
In the timeless world of pies and tarts, I’ve found that keeping everything — from your ingredients to your technique — simple, classic, and fresh is always your best bet. This is especially true when it comes to the pie’s fond de cuisine — the crust.
Here, keep your mixing method straightforward, leaving big, beautiful pieces of fresh butter, and just combining ingredients until the dough barely holds together. In a food genre where earnest, rustic recipes are expected and appreciated, over-thinking will almost surely result in over-complication, and consequently an over-mixed, over-seasoned crust. A few key, quality ingredients are all you need, the most essential (and delicious) of which is, of course, fresh, fabulous butter.
While it’s fairly safe to say that almost any tart is in some way a reminder of and tribute to that crucial component of deliciousness, this tart elevates butter to a new plateau of fantastic flavor. Brown butter (or beurre noisette) is arguably as wonderful as its original, non-toasty-brown form (if not better). Any lucky food it’s added to receives an an awe-inspiring depth of aroma and flavor.
The intoxicating, warm and toasted aroma translates into a complex, nutty flavor. But because the browning process separates the butter’s milk solids, this addition is happily lacking that tell-tale heaviness that often results from excessive butter. And what it loses in heaviness it gains in capacity, as it beautifully enhances the pears’ subtle sweetness in this wonderful tart.
Cooking from scratch … or not
Now I know that, at first, the recipe below seems rather long, especially if you’re looking for a quick-and-easy dessert for a Tuesday night after a long day. Luckily, this is exactly where its versatility comes into play, with equally amazing adaptations using the same delicious flavors and ingredients. So if you’re daunted by the idea of making a crust from scratch, or by the process of poaching pears, then don’t! Go ahead a use a quick-and-easy pre-made pie crust.
And instead of poaching your pears, simply grill or broil them to bring out their sweetness and a more delicate texture. Or equally, if pears and pears alone are what you’re craving without the fuss of crust and filling, follow the poaching recipe below and serve them along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Any way your creativity takes you, I guarantee you won’t go wrong with these classically fantastic flavors.
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
- 1⅓ cups pastry or all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon baking powder
- 2½ tablespoons ice water
- 1 egg
- With a blender, using the dough hook, add the flour, sugar, salt, and cold butter pieces. Mix until the butter is grape sized. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a hand mixer, food processor, or mix by hand.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the water and egg, then add to the mixture. Continue to mix until the water is just barely absorbed. Remove and wrap in plastic wrap, then chill for at least an hour (or until ready to use).
- Roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick, and press into individual tart shells. Use a cup or spoon to tamp down the crust, making sure it is firmly and evenly pressed.
- Bake shells for about 10 to 15 minutes, until just golden. This can be done ahead of time.
Brown Butter Filling
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup flour
- pinch of salt
- vanilla extract
- Cook butter over medium heat until browned. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Allow the burned fat solids to settle at the bottom of the pan.
- In a mixer with the paddle or scraper-beater attachment, beat the sugar, eggs, and vanilla for about 5 minutes on medium speed.
- Reduce the speed to low, add the flour and salt and mix till incorporated. Slowly add the browned butter.
- 4 pears, peeled, quartered, and cored
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup of your favorite white wine
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Place the water, wine, lemon juice, vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon stick in your countertop oven’s roasting pan. Arrange the pear slices in the pan, evenly distributed. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears and cool on a paper-towel lined plate. Slice each pear into desired size. (This could also depend on whether you are preparing a full tart or individual tartlets. For a full tart, I like to cut each quarter in half lengthwise, then in half again. For tartlets, I slice the pears down their width and fan them inside of each tartlet.)
- Pour the prepared brown butter filling in each prepared tart shell. Arrange the pear slices as desired, overlapping slightly.
- For individual tarts: Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.
- For whole tart: Bake at 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes.