How was your Easter weekend?
Had enough chocolate yet?
When I started thinking about a dessert for Easter with Thomas's family, the abundance of chocolate eggs was definitely something to keep in mind. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate and those tiny chocolate eggs filled with popping candy that my friend Bart used to bring us when we were in college... After all of that, even I wouldn't feel the need for any more chocolate.
So, rule number one for Easter dessert: no chocolate.
Rule number two? Sturdiness.
We had to be able to transport this dessert by bike. Even though I always bring home the goods from baking class by bike, there's a huge difference between a 1 km ride - where I step off of my bike when faced with a large bump - and a 10 km ride full of bumps. This dessert had to be able to take some hits.
Initially, my mind went to cake. I've been wanting to experiment more with cake for a while now and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Only...was it festive enough? I had my doubts. So I did something else. I decided on a tart. Something with pears. And nuts. No chocolate.
When I called my mom to ask for her pear tart recipe, she told me that she usually just wings it. Wait... What? She wings it? Oh my.
Anyway, I hassled her into looking for the original recipe. It called for a sweet shortcrust pastry and a flan-like filling with either almonds or walnuts. I really like the filling of my mom's pear tart, but wanted to do something extra with the crust. Also, the pears I had on hand were far from ripe, so I knew they wouldn't be soft enough if I just put them in the tart like that. It was time to play around with some recipes.
I ended up combining my mom's recipe with this recipe from the Kitchn, tweaking some stuff along the way. The result is a nutty tart with soft, poached pears, a flan-like filling and a walnut crumble.
pear walnut tart
crust & poached pears adapted from the Kitchn
makes a 35x11 cm rectangular tart
for the crust
105 gr all-purpose flour
105 gr shelled walnuts
a pinch of salt
115 gr unsalted butter, frozen
3 tbsp ice water
for the poached pears
500 ml water
150 gr granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 vanilla bean
ca. 500 gr pears, slightly underripe (I used 2 large Conference pears)
for the filling
75 gr granulated sugar
2 large eggs
250 ml heavy cream
for the crumble
100 gr shelled walnuts
50 gr granulated sugar
For the crust
1. Combine flour, shelled walnuts and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process this mixture until the walnuts are finely ground and incorporated into the flour. Chill in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
2. While the flour mixture chills, take the stick of butter out of the freezer and coarsely grate it. This isn't the most enjoyable part of the preparation, but it will help to get the tart crust together later. I usually put the butter back into the freezer for a couple of minutes after grating it, just so that it's really cold when I process it.
3. In the bowl of the food processor, combine the chilled flour mixture with the grated butter and process until the butter is incorporated but little flecks remain. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse briefly. You want the water to be distributed evenly throughout the flour-butter mixture and the dough to come together into large chunks. If necessary, add a little extra ice water, but be sure not to overdo it.
4. Turn the dough out into a tart pan with a removable bottom and press it into the pan with your fingers. Try to distribute it evenly and quickly. You don't want to warm the dough too much.
5. Place some parchment paper onto the crust and fill it with pie weights - I use uncooked lentils. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
6. Take the crust out of the refrigerator and place it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper - it will leak some butter while it bakes. Bake in the 200˚C oven until the butter starts to bubble and foam around the edges, around 12 minutes. Remove the pie weights and allow to cool to room temperature.
for the poached pears
1. While the crust cools, you can start working on the pears. Peel, quarter and core the pears. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the back of a knife to scrape out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the bean to a saucepan, together with the water, sugar and spices. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring regularly. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the pears and heat until it starts to simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the pears are cooked but still firm. Strain the pears and allow them to cool to room temperature.
for the filling
1. Combine sugar and eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk (manually or electrically) until white. Stir in the heavy cream.
1. Finely chop the walnuts for the crumble - I used the food processor - and mix with the sugar. Toss about half of the mixture with the pears. You can either cut the pears into smaller wedges or leave them as they are, cutting some slits across the back.
2. Arrange the pears in the tart crust and pour the filling over them. Fill the tart until just under the edge - you'll probably have some filling left over. Sprinkle with the rest of the walnut sugar mixture.
3. Put the tart pan back onto the lined baking sheet and bake at 180˚C for about 55 minutes. Allow to cool completely before unmolding and cutting.
This tart isn't overly rich or sweet, so it made for a good end to a day of lovely food and chocolate. If you're craving some extra sweetness, though, feel free to add some whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It works perfectly. Oh - and that 10 km bike ride? It survived it!