This was always one of the most popular items sold by my Total Heaven Baking Company in the early 1980s. Poaching the pears first is a little extra work, but you can do it up to five days in advance of assembling and baking the tart; just chill them in their poaching liquid. The variations possible with this tart are almost infinite—just change the fruit or the nuts in the filling.
Makes one 10-inch tart, 8 servings
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 ripe Bartlett pears, about 2 pounds
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 2- to 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon clear pear brandy, optional
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup walnut pieces, finely chopped
3/4 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons water
Confectioners’ sugar for finishing
One 10-inch tart crust made from Sweet Pastry Dough, below
- To poach the pears, half-fill a 4-quart pan with ice water and add the lemon juice. One at a time, peel, halve and use a melon ball scoop to core and stem the pears, adding the halves to the acidulated ice water as they are prepared. Use a slotted spoon to skim out the ice and pour away all the water except what’s needed to cover the pears by about 1 inch. Add the sugar, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick and stir gently. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper the same diameter as the inside of the pan and cut 6 to 8 1-inch holes in it. Press the paper down on top of the pears so that it is fully submerged. (This will keep the pear halves from floating up out of the liquid while they are cooking.) Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a full boil. Cover the pan, remove from the heat, and allow the pears to sit in the hot liquid until they have cooled completely. If the pears are perfectly ripe, they won’t need any more cooking; if they are less ripe, boil them for another 2. Once the pear halves are cool, use a slotted spoon to lift them gently to a plastic container and pour the pear brandy, if using, over the pears. Pour in enough of the poaching syrup to cover the pears and transfer the vanilla bean to the container. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- When you are ready to bake the tart, set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
- For the filling, combine the walnut pieces, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until finely ground. Use a thin metal spatula to scrape away any of the mixture stuck to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the butter, egg, and yolk to the work bowl and pulse until smooth. Quickly mix the flour and baking powder together; add the flour mixture to the work bowl and pulse again until absorbed. Use the same metal spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl again and pulse 2 or 3 additional times. Remove the blade by the handle and use the metal spatula to scrape any filling stuck to it into the prepared tart crust. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the remaining filling into the crust and smooth the top. Evenly scatter the chopped walnuts on the filling.
- Drain the pear halves on paper towels and then arrange them on the filling, wider sides close to the edge of the crust, ends pointing toward the center. (To determine if they’ll all fit, do a dry run on a plate and trim the sides of the pear halves if necessary.) Bake until the edge of the crust is deep golden and the filling is set, about 30 minutes.
- Cool the tart on a rack. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Stir together the preserves and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, over low heat. Strain into a bowl, then rinse the pan and return the strained glaze to it.
- Generously dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar and wait until the sugar on the pears melts. Blot the pears with a paper towel. Reheat the glaze and reduce it slightly, then pour a small spoonful of glaze onto each pear. Unmold the tart and slide it from the pan base to a platter.
Sweet Pastry Dough
Makes about 18 ounces dough, enough for two 10-inch tarts, or the bottom and top crust for a 10-inch tart
2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 10 pieces
2 large eggs
- To mix the dough by hand, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and stir well to combine.
- Cut each piece of butter into 4 or 5 smaller pieces and add all of them to the bowl.
- Use both hands, palms upward, to reach under the dry ingredients to the bottom of the bowl, and lift them up through the contents of the bowl several times to distribute the pieces of butter evenly among the dry ingredients.
- Use your fingertips to pinch the pieces of butter into smaller pieces, alternating with rubbing the mixture between the palms of your hands and occasionally repeating step 3. Continue rubbing in the butter until no visible pieces remain and the whole mixture is cool and powdery.
- Add the eggs and use a fork to break them up. Use one hand to move the bowl back and forth across the work surface in a straight line while you stir up from the bottom with the fork until the dough is almost completely mixed.
- Invert the dough to a floured work surface and gently knead it into a consistent mass.
- Divide the dough in half, then flatten each half into a disk. Use immediately or wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days.