Golden pear slices fan across pastry cream in an equally golden tart crust. Almonds add crunch. The traditional way to present the pears on this tart is to slice them into halves, then slice each half into many thin crosswise pieces. The pear halves are then lifted and held together while they are transferred to the top of the tart, then fanned slightly to separate the slices. Managing the thinly-sliced pear halves and keeping the pieces together takes some practice. Follow the directions to lift the slices with a knife or spatula, and don’t be afraid to hold them together with your other hand as you move them.
- Pastry Dough
- Flour - 1 cup
- Sugar - 2 tablespoons
- Pinch of salt
- Unsalted Butter - 1/2 cup, cut into small pieces
- Water - 1/2 cup
- Dried Beans - 2 cups
- Poached Pears
- Ripe Pears - 3, peeled
- Sugar - 1/2 cup
- Water - 2 cups
- Peel from 1 lemon
- Vanilla Extract - 4 drops
- Custard Cream Pastry Filling
- Sugar - 1 cup
- Eggs - 2 whole
- Egg Yolks - 3
- Pear Brandy - 2 tablespoons (optional)
- Pear Poaching Liquid - 3 tablespoons
- Flour - 1/4 cup
- Milk - 1-1/2 cups, scalded with 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Almonds - 2 to 3 tablespoons ground
To prepare the dough: Sift the flour, sugar, and salt together. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the water. Mix together with your hands until it forms a ball. Wrap in a damp towel or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Unwrap the dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until large enough to fit a 9-inch tart pan. Roll up the dough around the rolling pin, transfer to the tart pan, and unroll over the pan. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Prick the bottom with a fork. Cover the sides and bottom of the dough with parchment paper and fill the pan with beans; the beans will help keep the pastry from buckling as it bakes. Bake 20 minutes, until it just begins to brown. Remove and set aside; when cool enough to handle, remove the beans and parchment paper (the beans may be used in the same way again).
To prepare the pears: Put the pears in a saucepan and cover with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until the pears can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Drain, reserving both pears and liquid.
To prepare the custard: Whisk the sugar, whole eggs, and 2 egg yolks in a bowl until thick and lemon-colored. Whisk in the pear brandy and pear poaching liquid. Add the flour and beat until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup hot milk, then add the mixture to the remaining milk in a saucepan. Put over medium-low heat and stir until it thickens; it will thicken very fast. Remove from heat, then pour into a heatproof bowl and let cool. When cool, beat in the remaining egg yolk.
To assemble: Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cut the pears in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and stems, then slice crosswise 1/4-inch thick from end to end. Spread half the pastry cream evenly on the bottom of the baked tart shell. Slide a wide knife or spatula under a pear half and lift all the slices at once. Transfer the slices intact to the top of the pastry cream, thin end at the center of the tart. Arrange all the pear halves this way in a radial design on top of the tart. Pressing gently with your fingers, slide the slices of each pear half gently apart, fanning the sliced halves to fit from the center of the tart to the edge. Fill the tart to the top with the remaining pastry cream. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake 45 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle. Remove the pan sides and place the tart on a serving plate.
To serve: The tart may be served warm, or chilled.