Every baker, I believe, at one point in their gastronomic explorations has an “ah ha!” moment where they realize “hey I can actually add a little flour, sugar and eggs and create something pretty awesome” Being one who usually played it safe, my repertoire up until March consisted mostly of chocolate, cream and cake. Everything I made was essentially brown in color: triple chocolate cake, fudgey brownies, and tiramisu. It wasn’t until when I asked Stacy what kind of confectionery delight she wanted to celebrate with to mark her birthday, she requested a fruit tart.
There’s a reason why I avoided fruit for all this time.
Fruit requires good timing: you have to ensure that the fruit is ripe but not soft. Fruit requires buying in advance therefore knowing exactly what you want to make a week in advance. You can’t just do it on a whim, you need to be organized and calculated. In addition to this, oxygen and vulnerable bare flesh aren’t a good mix when it comes to organics. The lemon becomes your best friend: a wedge of its acidity to counter slices of apple from browning and pears from spotting. You pray that there aren’t any blemishes; replacements aren’t easy to find. It’s a race against time. And that’s why I avoided fruit. But with this new challenge and with my pride at stake, I couldn’t say no. Whenever I think of fruit tarts, my head conjures up pictures of over-glazed mixed fruits frozen in gelatin on soggy crusts.
I am unsure why I decided to tackle such a difficult project such as this Poached Pear Tart that I found on epicurious.com. Perhaps it’s because of the ratings or because I really like pears but anyway, that final hour where I was putting it together, I realized, I had overcome a huge hurdle as a baker.
I could do fruits.
That opened a lot of doors for me particularly concerning aesthetics: there is only so much you can do with chocolate particularly concerning colour palette. But with fruit? Floral motifs, sun flares radiating outward bursting forth in juicy gloriousness… not to mention the colours: mango yellow, quiet plum purple, ruby red and cheeky blush pink. I decided to do break up this entire recipe into three parts: one for every day, for every step of the process. Three days because I didn’t want to feel rushed or pressured to finish it on time. I must say that the lengthy process is worth it though: the tart is unique in its way of poaching in wine which reflects a taste of red cherry, pear, almond and butter. It’s a tart worth making if you want to impress guests or a date (just not a first date lest it goes awry and you realize you’ve spent more time baking than the hours spent together. =P). It’s really simple actually so I’ve broken down the steps lest it looks overwhelming. I’ve simplified the recipe- caramelized nuts aren’t really necessary, but I do make a vanilla bean cream to go with it. I don’t usually like the taste of wine but really this recipe will turn anyone into an alcoholic (kidding). I’ve included a visual step-by-step here photographed by yours truly for those visual learners out there. 😛 You can get the original recipe from epicurious here
- 2/3 cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios
- 7 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1 1/3 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 5 tablespoons whipping cream
- 3 cups fruity red wine (such as Zinfandel)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Peel from 1 orange, removed with vegetable peeler in strips
- Peel from 1 lemon, removed with vegetable peeler in strips
- 5 medium-size firm but ripe pears (such as Anjou), peeled, rubbed with cut side of lemon wedge
For pastry cream:
Finely grind pistachios and 3 tablespoons sugar in processor. Transfer nut mixture to heavy medium saucepan; add milk and bring to boil. Whisk remaining 4 tablespoons sugar, yolks, and cornstarch in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to same pan; whisk constantly over medium-high heat until mixture boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Whisk butter into pastry cream, 1 piece at a time. Transfer pastry cream to bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Stir in cream. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
For poached pears:
Bring wine, sugar, orange peel, and lemon peel to boil in heavy large saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears; bring to simmer. Cut parchment paper round to fit pan; press paper atop pears. Partially cover pan; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently until pears are tender, turning occasionally, about 30 minutes. Transfer pears and poaching liquid to medium bowl. Cool to room temperature. (Pears can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
** Buy the pears a few days in advance. If they aren’t ripe (yellow) the night prior to poaching, place the pears in a paper bag, roll it up and put it in a warm, dark place. This will speed up the process of riping. Yes, you get to play a pseudo god and no, that does not mean you can conquer the world.