Thursday, March 25, 2010


"All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways." - Yann Martel Life of Pi

There's a Dutch idiom that goes like this, Hid zit met de gebakken peren, which literally translates to 'he sits with the baked pears', but is used to express being stuck with the negative consequences of something another caused. The idiom dates from a time when baked (or poached) pears were a special delicacy. If the guest didn't show up, the host who took the extra effort, cost, and preparation of the dish was 'stuck with the baked pears'. The English idiom 'go pear-shaped' means a plan went awry or failed. Baked or poached pears are in fact delicious. Poached pears in particular are one of the simplest desserts there are, and ones poached in wine absorb the deep essence of the wine and turn a rich jewel color. These tender and succulent pears can be paired with pastry cream, ice cream, or even blue cheese. A sprinkle of crushed praline and you have a classic dish that takes very little effort. I've decided to use them in a tart recipe. You can choose from a variety of pears but make sure they aren't fully ripened or they will fall apart while poaching. The trick is to leave the pear in the slowly simmering liquid for as long as possible. The longer it poaches the more the pear takes on the flavor and the color of your syrup.

Drunken Pear Tart
1 recipe for Pâte Brisée
8 large under-ripe pears
1/2 vanilla bean split and scraped (throw the whole bean in the pot to release all the seeds)
1 star anise
6 whole peppercorns
4 whole cloves
1/3 cup sugar
2 3/4 cups full-bodied red wine
slivered pistachios or almonds, for sprinkling
crème fraiche or whipped cream, for serving

a cast iron skillet, 11 inches diameter
  1. Bring Pâte Brisée to room temperature before rolling out.
  2. Peel the pears, halve lengthwise, and carefully scoop out the core with a teaspoon or a melon baller. Arrange them around the base of the skillet in concentric circles, wide ends outwards and the points facing into the center. Any pears remaining should be cut up and used to fill any gaps.
  3. Add all the spices over the top and sprinkle with the sugar. Carefully pour the red wine, then bring to a boil. Lower the stove to medium low heat. Cover and simmer gently for about 1 hour or until tender. A fork should slide easily into the flesh, but it should not be mushy, like canned pears.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Uncover the pan and hold the plate or pan lid over the pears to hold them back while you pour off the juices into a saucepan. Boil the juices hard until well reduced and syrupy, then sprinkle them back over the pears.
  5. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to a circle slightly larger than the diameter of the pan. Lift the dough over the pears and tuck the edges of the dough down into the a pan. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until the curst is crisp and golden.
  6. As soon as it is ready, invert the tart onto a plate or it will stick - the fruit will be very hot, so be careful you don't burn your fingers. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with the pistachios or almonds and a good dollop of crème fraiche or whipped cream.

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