This delicately flavored tart, filled with vanilla-poached pears and brandy-spiked custard and topped with sugary toasted almonds, is a beautiful dessert for a wintertime dinner party. To turn this into an apple tart, gently sauté 3 peeled, cored and sliced apples in 1 Tbs. butter until they just start to become tender. Spread evenly in the partially baked crust, pour over the custard, and proceed with the recipe from there.
For the tart dough:
1 1⁄4 cups (6 1⁄2 oz.⁄200 g) all-purpose flour
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. sugar
7 Tbs. (3 1⁄2 oz.⁄105 g) very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5 Tbs. (3 fl. oz.⁄80 ml) ice water, plus more if needed
For the filling:
3⁄4 cup (6 oz.⁄185 g) sugar
3 ripe but firm pears, preferably Bosc, peeled, quartered and cored
Zest of 1 orange, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
1⁄2 vanilla bean
1⁄4 cup (2 oz.⁄60 g) plus 1 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup (4 fl. oz.⁄125 ml) heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 2 Tbs. brandy
Pinch of kosher salt
1⁄4 cup (1 oz.⁄30 g) sliced almonds, lightly toasted
To make the dough, in the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, salt and sugar. Sprinkle the butter over the top and pulse for a few seconds, or just until the butter is slightly broken up into the flour but still in visible pieces. Evenly sprinkle the water over the flour mixture, then process just until the
mixture starts to come together. Transfer the dough into a large sealable plastic bag and press into a flat disk. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes or up to 1 day, or freeze for up to 1 month.
To make the filling, cut a circle of parchment paper that will fit in a medium saucepan. Cut a small circle in the middle of the parchment. In the saucepan, bring 3 cups (24 fl. oz./750 ml) water and the sugar to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the pears and orange zest. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with the back of a paring knife; add the pod and seeds to the saucepan. Lay the parchment in the saucepan to submerge the pears. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers gently and poach the pears until just tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the poaching liquid.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F (200°C). On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a circle about 13 inches (33 cm) in diameter. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch (25-cm) tart pan with a removable bottom and ease into the pan. Trim away any excess dough. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the crust is dried out and just starting to color a bit, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights. Let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C).
Cut each pear quarter lengthwise into 4 slices, then lay most of the pear slices in the crust in an
overlapping circle close to the rim. Use the remaining slices to fill the middle.
In a bowl, beat together the egg and the 1/4 cup sugar until thick and pale. Beat in the flour and then the cream, vanilla and salt. Pour evenly over the pears. Bake until the custard starts to puff up, about 10
minutes. Sprinkle the toasted almonds and remaining 1 Tbs. sugar over the top of the tart. Continue to bake until the custard is set and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until warm or room temperature before slicing and serving. Makes one 10-inch (25-cm) tart.
For this and many more recipes for irresistible baked goods both sweet and
savory, check out Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort, by Kim Laidlaw.