French Pear Tart by Dorie Greenspan
FOR THE PEARS
3 medium pears, firm but ripe
4 c. water
1 1/4 c. sugar
FOR THE ALMOND CREAM
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
3/4 c. ground blanched almonds
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 partially baked 9" tart shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough, at room temperature (recipe below)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Peel the pears and leave them whole. Bring the water, sugar, and juice of 1 lemon to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, reduce heat and simmer, gently poaching the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup.
To make the almond cream: In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to mix until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, blend, then add the egg. Continue blending until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the vanilla and blend just until incorporated. Use the almond cream immediately or refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Cut the pears in half from blossom to stem and core them. Pat them very dry so that their liquid doesn't keep the almond cream from baking.
Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on the spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the crust, over the almond cream. The halves will form spokes.
Put the crust on a lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50-60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before unmolding.
Dust the tart with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
Sweet Tart Dough
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 1 Tbsp. very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
To make the dough: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before it reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
Very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
Butter a 9" tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.