This post comes to us courtesy of writer and Williams-Sonoma creative consultant Laura Martin Bacon.
Some kids are born with the generous heart and intuitive hands of a true baker – and my friend Jenny is one of them.
At 15 years old, she’s been baking for most of her life. (Jenny baked her first cookies at the age of three and plans to keep at it until she’s at least 103.)
Lately, she’s been exploring farmers’ markets in search of the ultimate fall fruit. Her goal is to put an original spin on her family’s famous “hand-me-down” tart: a recipe that calls for perfect pears, a dash of imagination and lots of love.
Jenny’s instincts go back generations: her mom is a cooking teacher and her great-grandmothers’ tin recipe boxes are alive with sweet inspiration. To keep traditions going, Jenny teaches other young cooks and bakers at Chow Bella Kids and through the DooF kids’ food writing program.
“The thing I love most about baking is creating things from scratch. It seems magical that you can begin with a bunch of separate ingredients and end up with an amazing finished product,” Jenny says.
“It’s also really cool to take a family recipe and make it truly your own. I’ve been dreaming about this tart ever since pears started showing up in the markets last month. It’s made from a combination of various family recipes that have been handed down over the years from my great grandmas.”
“Substituting candied pecans for the classic almond paste is my idea – so I guess our family has a new recipe now! I made the tart crust the way my mom does, with a traditional pie crust, not the sweet buttery crust you find in classic French pastry tarts.”
Jenny’s advice to fellow kid bakers: “Experiment with new recipes – and don’t be afraid to make up your own. Get creative with lots of different kitchen tools and techniques (for example, I love playing with our Vitamix blender). Mostly, just have fun – and enjoy your time in the kitchen.”
Here are Jenny’s step-by-step tips for a perfect pear tart:
Before you begin, make sure all your ingredients are measured, organized and in one place.
Pre-bake your crust to avoid a tart with a soggy bottom. To prevent your pie dough from losing its shape, cover with foil before you bake it. Let the pie crust cool completely before adding the pecan paste.
I chopped the candied pecans in the Vitamix, then I added the rest of the ingredients all at once and combined them using a very slow speed. I found this worked better than a food processor and it’s really easy to clean.
It’s a good idea to taste the candied pecan paste so you will know if you need to adjust the seasonings or not. Once you have it just right, cover and set in the refrigerator until firm (about 30 minutes).
While the pie crust cools and the pecan paste sets in the refrigerator, go to work peeling, coring and slicing the pears.
Once the pears are peeled, rub them with lemon to prevent discoloration. Be sure to slice them evenly – if you have a slicer like the one in my photo, it will make your job a lot easier.
Spread the pecan paste evenly on the cooled tart crust. Arrange the pears anyway you like to create a beautiful design – and your tart is ready to bake.
Jenny’s Hand-Me-Down Pear Tart
Hand-me-down recipes are the best because they’re filled with lots of wisdom and love over the years. I hope you have as much fun baking this tart as I did!
For the pears:
3 to 4 medium, very ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced thin
For the candied pecan paste:
1 cup ground candied pecans (recipe below)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 large egg
For the pastry:
1 pre-baked 9-inch pie crust, at room temperature (basic recipe below)
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
To make the Candied Pecan Paste: Put the pecans, butter, sugar, flour, cornstarch and egg in a food processor (or Vitamix) and process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Scrape mixture into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the pecan paste on the bottom of the pre-baked pie crust.
Slide a spatula under half of a pre-sliced pear, then gently slide the fruit on top of the paste. Continue with the rest of the pear halves or until the tart is full of pears. Press down on the top of the pears to fan them.
Put the tart on a lined baking sheet, place the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 minutes, or until the pecan paste puffs up around the pears. Remove the tart and cool on a wire rack.
Optional: Dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar just before serving
Homemade Pastry Dough
The secret to a flaky pie crust is very cold butter. Cut the butter into cubes and freeze for at least 15 minutes.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use organic whenever possible)
1 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
7 Tbs. very cold butter, cut into small pieces
7 Tbs. very cold shortening, cut into pieces
1/2 cup ice water
Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and shortening.
With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles pea-size pieces.
Using a fork, quickly stir in 1/2 cup ice water. Turn dough onto a clean, cool surface. Knead just until dough starts to hold together (about 10 times). Divide dough in half and shape each half into a 6″ disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
These sweet, crunchy nuts make a great snack – or try sprinkling them on everything from cereal, waffles and pancakes to salads and desserts.
2 egg whites
2 Tbs. water
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 cups pecans
Preheat oven to 250°F.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and water. Add pecans and stir to coat. Whisk together the sugar, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour over the pecans and stir so they’re all coated evenly.
Spread pecans on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
About the author: Laura is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.