Poached Pears :
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 strips lemon peel
1 stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
5 firm but ripe pears, peeled and rubbed with lemon juice to prevent browning
Pastry Dough:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter, cut into bits
3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, cut into bits
4 tablespoons ice water
Almond Filling :
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, cut into bits
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup blanched almonds, finely ground
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Make Poached Pears: In large saucepan, combine all ingredients except pears and bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Add pears, cover, and simmer, turning occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes, or until pears are tender when pierced with sharp knife. With slotted spoon, remove pears from syrup to platter and let stand until ready to use. (Pears may be refrigerated in poaching syrup up to 2 days in advance. When ready to use, remove pears from poaching liquid and drain well; pat dry just before slicing them and assembling the tart.)
2. Make Pastry Dough: In food processor, combine flour, salt, butter and shortening, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture and pulse until dough just starts to come together in pieces the size of large pebbles. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; with heel of hand, lightly knead dough until it just comes together into ball. Flatten ball into disk and dust lightly with flour. Wrap disk in waxed paper and chill at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
3. Make Almond Filling: In medium bowl, with electric mixer, cream butter with sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in almonds and vanilla.
4. Roll out dough: Let dough warm slightly to prevent cracking. On lightly floured surface, with rolling pin, roll dough into 1/8-inch-thick round, making quarter turn of dough after each roll of pin. Gently roll dough onto rolling pin and unroll over 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough firmly against bottom, into edges, and up fluted sides of pan, then roll pin across top of pan to trim dough. Prick bottom of dough liberally with fork; chill shell 30 minutes.
5. Assemble tart: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With small rubber spatula, spread almond filling evenly over bottom of chilled tart shell. Pat pears dry, halve 4 of them lengthwise, and core each half. Quarter and core remaining pear. Arrange the 8 pear halves, cut side down, on almond filling, with tops meeting in center. Fill in any empty spaces between pair halves with remaining pear quarters.
6. Place tart on baking sheet and bake 40 minutes, or until filling is set and golden brown. Immediately before serving, brush surface with some of pear poaching syrup. Remove tart from pan, place on serving platter, and serve.

You may prepare the tart 1 day in advance of serving and store, lightly wrapped, at room temperature. Brush it with the pear poaching syrup right before serving. Or, prepare the poached pears and the pastry dough 2 days in advance, then make the almond filling, assemble, and bake the tart all on the same day. (The almond filling contains eggs and should be used the same day it is made.) You may substitute canned apricots, drained and patted dry, or fresh prune plums, halved and pitted, for the pears. Place them cut side down on the almond filling and proceed as directed.

Pear and Almond Tart
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