After my last Sunday lunch, which was really neither of those things because it was actually dinner and on a Saturday, it took me a while to fully clean up. Over the course of the week, I washed the dirty pots and dishes, sorted all the silverware, tucked away the tiny delicate digestif glasses and the endless parade of now clean wineglasses. I put countless empty bottles in the recycling bin and stared at the Calvados, wondering if I’d ever really enjoy it’s fiery burn. Sometimes I like the idea of something more than the reality. But two bottles, each with a little wine in the bottom, continued to sit in the middle of the dining room table for nearly two weeks. I kept meaning to do something with them but as time went on, drinking wasn’t really an option. So instead, I shuffled them around a few times until one day, I had an idea. Poached pears.
I had a few pears stashed in the fridge that needed to be used so why not? As I reached for the bottles it slowly occurred to me I didn’t really have enough wine to do this correctly. Wait, let me amend that. I didn’t have enough of one type of wine to pull this off. Combined, I would be fine. But who mixes red and white? Well from now on, I do.
Why wait until you have enough “leftover” wine to poach pears? Or why buy a special bottle to do this? Just use what you have. If it’s good enough to drink, it’s good enough to cook with. I mixed a cabernet with a Riesling and it was delicious. I know, the horror – it’s basically a fake rose – but it works and my pears were a beautiful shade of rosy pink. I think I now prefer this combo over the straight red or white. With some lemon slices and a few star anise thrown in, they had a great flavor too. Hey, even the best of us drinkers have some leftovers once in a while and really now, let’s be honest. Have you actually started that vinegar project you keep saying you’re going to with that leftover wine? Yeah, I thought so. Me neither.
So I took those rosy pears, which were really quite delicious all on their own, and made a few gorgeous pear tarts. It’s a classic with a simple crust and a delicate frangipane filling that bakes into a moist almond scented cake that puffs up around the sliced pear. You could make one 9” tart or a few individual tarts. I just happen to prefer the later. There’s something special about having your own little dessert. I’m not great at sharing anyway so it works out better this way for all involved.
I baked these twice over the course of the weekend and it was really rather easy once everything was made. The tart dough was rolled, fitted into the pans and stashed in the freezer. The frangipane, once made, was kept tightly wrapped in the refrigerator and I let it come to room temperature to soften before using. The pears were poached, drained and refrigerated for nearly a week to no ill effect. I also reduced the poaching liquid down to the most delicious spiced wine jelly, which I then used as a glaze on the freshly baked tarts. With all the parts ready to go, I put them together and into the oven in less than 5 minutes. No joke. And once baked, they kept very well, staying moist for at least a few days though I can’t be sure because they didn’t last that long. Not bad at all for using a bunch of leftovers.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FRAN-GI-PANTASTIC. I’m feeling very thrifty here, using up leftover wine and less than perfect pears to make a lovely dessert. Next thing you know, I’ll be knitting sweaters from dryer lint. So until you actually take the steps to buy that vinegar mother and get the damn thing started, use your dregs so cook some fruit. You’ll be so glad you did.
PEAR FRANGIPANE TART
Serves 6-8 – makes one 9” tart or six 4” tarts
For the pears:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups dry white wine
1 lemon, cut into round slices
2 whole star anise
6 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, halved, and cored
for the tart dough:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ½ Tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in ½” pieces
1 Tablespoon cold water
1 egg yolk
for the frangipane filling:
½ pound almond paste, room temperature
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- For the tart dough: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.
- Add the cold butter cubes and toss to coat.
- Using your thumb and first two fingers, rub the butter and flour until the mixture is the size of small peas.
- In a small bowl, combine the yolk and the cold water.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add the yolk/water mixture and begin to combine.
- Gently knead the mixture together making sure to work in all the dry bits of flour. (Note: of course you can do all this in your food processor with a few pulses.)
- Pat into a flat round disc (or six discs for individual tarts), wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least ½ hour. Will keep in the fridge for 2 days or frozen up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
- For the pears: Cut a piece of parchment paper into a round to fit perfectly inside the saucepan. Set aside.
- In a large nonreactive saucepan bring the sugar, water, wine, lemon, star anise to a boil, reduce heat to medium and stir until sugar has dissolved.
- Place the pears in the poaching liquid, pushing to submerge and place the parchment round directly over the pears. (This will keep the pears moist and prevent discoloration as they poach.)
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer 30-40 minutes or until the pears are very tender. (Test with a paring knife, which should slide in easily.)
- Remove pears from poaching liquid and allow the pears to cool.
- Meanwhile, reduce the poaching liquid over medium heat until thick and syrupy.
- Discard the lemon slices and star anise and set aside until needed to glaze the tarts.
- Roll the tart dough: On a lightly floured surface, sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and roll – from the center out – to an 11” circle (or smaller circles for individual tarts.)
- Roll dough up on rolling pin and carefully unroll over a 9” tart pan with removable bottom.
- Carefully ease the dough into the fluted edges and pinch or roll off excess. Reinforce the sides with excess dough where needed.
- Chill or freeze 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.
- For the frangipane filling: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, break up the almond paste on low speed.
- With the mixture on low, add the sugar and salt in a slow steady stream and mix until sandy and there are no visible big chunks of almond paste.
- Add the softened butter, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until smooth and creamy.
- Scrape the bowl.
- Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl in between.
- On low, add the flour and mix until well blended.
- Assemble the tarts: Spread the frangipane over the bottom of the frozen tart shell(s).
- Carefully slice the pears horizontally into ¼” thick slices but keep the pears together.
- Arrange the whole cut pears on top of the frangipane with the pear tops pointing toward the center. (For smaller tarts, use one pear per tart.)
- Push gently on the pear to make all the slices angle toward the center (or in one direction).
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until frangipane and the edges of the tart shell are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
- Once the tarts are cool, brush the pears with some of the reduced poaching liquid to glaze. If the glaze is too thick, reheat it gently and thin with a little water if needed.
- The tart is best the day it’s made but will keep for at least 2-3 days, tightly wrapped at room temperature.