I have a new guilty pleasure... mmmm hmmm. Cookbooks are still my first love, but sometimes you still need your fix but with a little less committment. So, to assuage my need, I
sneaked added another magazine subscription to my list - Bon Appétit. Love, baby, love.
Three months in, I made a discovery. THE THANKSGIVING ISSUE! Turkey and sides and desserts. Ohhh, the desserts. Desserts with choices. That aren't apple.. (I am still suffering from post-apple season stress syndrome. It's not a pretty sight people - it not's a pretty sight.) Apparently, the good folks at the magazine are mind-readers (perhaps they are just smart) for including desserts like this.
Sometimes, you get done with something and you take a step back and say "man, this one is a winner". And it feels good. Real good. Bon Appetit's Vanilla Spiced Caramel and Pear Tart is a-pear-antly (sorry, can't stop with the pear puns) one of those recipes. (The recipe - along with a few comments are at the bottom of this post).
While involved, none of the steps were very mid-boggling. The use of frozen puff pastry mitigates what would be the most painful step in creating this tart. (Yes, those are cupcakes with pink frosting sitting in sports themed liners in the background. Don't ask.). With a little creative patchworking, I was able to stretch the pastry to make it the requistite "1 -1.5" up the side of the pan.
This is really a very kind recipe. Yeppers. The stars of the dessert even get treated to a spa day before debuting on your plate. Mmmmm. Hmmmm. A nice warm sauna in sugar and butter and fragrant spices. Don't they look relaxed?
After their sauna, the pears are even treated to a nap on a bed of soft filling. There should be a medal of honor for treating food so kindly. This is "good Samaratin-ism" at it's finest.
Ah, such relaxed little guys. All snug in their pastry bed. At this point, I might suggest transferring the tart to a pretty plate and parading it around the neighborhood (marching band and floats optional) - or if you are one of those "reserved" kinds of people, at least make a brief appearance on the front porch waving it around. No one will think you are crazy or anything. No, no, no, no. It's perfectly normal to schlepp desserts up and down Main Street in some parts of this fine country of ours. Yeah. Just saying... (ears turning red, coughs)
Serving suggestion: a side of good vanilla ice cream, some of the pan sauce drizzled over both the tart and the ice cream. Top it off with a nice glass of dessert wine. After all, you are celebrating a job well done...
Vanilla-Spiced Caramel and Pear Tart
Adapted from Bon Appétit November 2010
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise (if you don't like that licorice taste - omit from both the pears and filling)
3 whole cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split
6 medium-firm, but ripe pears, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored (I used Bartlett – make sure they are firm so that they will hold up to the cooking time)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split (the other half of the
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 whole star anise
6 whole cloves
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1 egg white, beaten to blend
Roll out pastry to 12-inch square and trim the corners until you have a slightly rounded crust. Transfer dough to a 10-inchspringform pan (I rolled my crust on a sheet of wax paper – which made it pretty easy to flip and transfer), pressing pastry firmly onto bottom and 1 to 1 1/2 inches up sides of pan (I used the leftover corners to help even out any sides that didn’t quite make it an inch up the side of the pan) . Freeze crust until firm, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Melt butter in large, heavy bottomed skillet over low heat. Add sugar and next 4 ingredients. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring until sugar melts and turns brown (color of peanut butter), about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add pears, rounded side down. Cook until pears are almost tender, turning and moving skillet around occasionally to ensure even cooking, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on ripeness of pears. Carefully turn pears over; continue to cook until pears are very tender, about 10 minutes longer. Remove skillet from heat; cool pears in skillet with spices (pears will release juice while cooling).
Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Add cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Increase heat to medium; cook until butter is golden (watch to avoid burning), 3 to 4 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and spices from butter; discard.
Whisk sugar, egg, and coarse salt in medium bowl. Whisk in flour. Gradually whisk browned butter into egg mixture.
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 400°F. Brush frozen crust with beaten egg white. Pour filling into crust; spread evenly over bottom of crust (filling will be very thin). Using slotted spatula, remove pears from skillet, allowing excess syrup to drain back into skillet; reserve syrup. Arrange pears, rounded side up, atop filling (about 9 around edge and 3 in center of pan).
Bake tart until crust is deep golden and filling is set and brown at edges, about 1 hour. Run small knife around sides of pan to loosen tart. Release pan sides. Transfer tart to platter. Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature to cool slightly until just warm.
Just before serving, boil syrup in skillet until reduced to ~1/3 cup, 1-2 minutes. (At this point, I added one tablespoon butter, a ¼ cup Muscato and a tablespoon boiled cider – since I wanted slightly more sauce. I boiled it about 3-4 minutes). Discard spices. Drizzle syrup over pears. Be sure to parade the tart around the dining room before cutting into. Be prepared for oohs, aahs and perhaps even some foot kissing. Serve tart slightly warm - a dollop of whipped cream or French Vanilla ice cream is a nice accompaniment.