For the final project in one of my classes, I was tasked to “make something creative.”
Being the person I am, I was paralyzed by the possibilities. Should I paint something? Should I write an essay? A poem? Should I make a paper sculpture or a felt flower bouquet or make puppets out of socks?
Ultimately, I fell back on one of my favorite arts: pastry.
While the technical aspects of pastry are exact and unforgiving, the decorative portions provide ample space for expression. My submission was time consuming and laborious, but I quite enjoyed the time in my silent kitchen after the little one was snoring, to let my mind wander while I sliced and rolled each bloom and placed each tiny marzipan ball just so, late into the night.
When I was finally ready to place my masterpiece into the fire, I hesitated. So often the results of our creative vision fall short in the final execution, and when you can’t control exactly how the filling will rise and push the décor around in unexpected ways, it seems a shame to cook it and burst that beautiful bubble.
But as I have said before, my favorite artistic medium is one that will disappear, so in the oven she went.
This poached pear frangipane tart takes a little planning and skill, but with patience and vision, you too can create a sweet, almond scented masterpiece.
Poached Pear Frangipane Tart
For the tart crust:
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons cold butter — cubed
1 egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
For the poached pears:
3 large pears — slightly underripe is best
1 star anise pod
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups sugar
6 cups water
For the frangipane filling:
1 stick butter — softened
1 cup almond flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Make the tart crust first.
In a food processor combine the sugar, salt and flour by pulsing until combined.
Add in the cold butter, one cube at a time, while pulsing until the mixture is homogenous.
Add the egg yolk and vanilla last and keep pulsing until the dough starts to come together. The dough will appear dry but keep pulsing and it will start to clump.
Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead until smooth.
Press the dough into a greased 10-inch tart pan and chill for at least 1 hour.
Poach the pears next.
Mix the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Add in the spices and turn the heat down to a slow simmer
Peel the pears and slice in half longways, keeping the stem attached.
Use a melon baller to remove the core, then drop the pears into the simmering water. If the liquid doesn’t cover the pears completely, add water until it does.
Simmer the pears in the water for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until softened.
Turn off the heat and allow the pears to cool in the liquid to room temperature.
Blind bake the tart shell by baking in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes under a greased aluminum cover with pie weights. Then remove the aluminum and the weights and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Allow the shell to cool completely before continuing.
Make the filling next.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the eggs one at a time while beating at low speed.
Add the almond flour and mix until combined.
Add the flour and almond extract and mix.
Assemble the tart by pouring the filling into the tart crust and smoothing the top as perfectly as possible.
Take your pears out of the poaching liquid and gently dry.
Slice thinly and arrange on the surface of the filling — be as creative as you please.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, until the filling has risen around the pears and has turned a deep brown.
Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar.