Friday, November 20, 2009

Pie Oh My!

pear tart
Those who know me know that pie is my go to dessert. Unlike my arch-foe cake (hiss!), pies usually come out well, and feature fresh fruit with minimal adornment.
This year the pears seem to be exceptional. Every single one I’ve tasted has been terrific. So when friends asked me to bring dessert to dinner the other night, nobody should have been surprised with I turned up with a pear pie. Well, to be precise, a pear tart with brown butter and anise.
This one blew me away. It looked as good as it tasted, which isn’t really always the case with pies. Or things that I cook in general. I even liked the anise flavor, which I often take pains to avoid. In fact next time I make it, I may up the amount of anise just a tad, then I am going to make this yet another time and spice it with cardamom.
Unlike most tarts, this recipe claims that the crust doesn’t need weighting. It also doesn’t require an hour of chilling time before baking so the procrastinators among us have something to cheer.
This recipe is one that I clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle years ago. My heartfelt thanks to whoever originally created it.

Brown Butter Pear Tart with Anise

makes one 9" tart
1  1/3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 oz. unsalted butter
pinch salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

2 oz. butter
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp anise seeds
3 small ripe pears, preferably Bartlett or other squat-shaped pears

Make the pastry:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor bowl, add the flour, sugar and salt. Process just to blend, then cut the butter into pieces and add. Process in short pulses until just mixed - about the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the egg and vanilla and process until combined.
Roll the dough out into a roughly 10" circle - about 1/8" thick. lift the dough and place in a 9 inch tart pan. (I used a 9 inch springform, as I don't have a tart pan in that size and draped the dough over the to try to keep it from sinking down. this worked perfectly - just trim the drapey edges once you're done with the pre-bake and you're good to go).
Prick the dough on the sides and bottom with a fork, then bake for 20 minutes or until set.
Place the pan on a wire rack to cool while you work on the filling.
Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Make the filling:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it starts to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and pour it into a bowl to help cool it down. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, then whisk in the sugar. Grind the anise seeds in a mortar and pestle, then add to the mix along with the flour and vanilla. Gradually whisk in the brown butter until the butter is fully incorporated.
Peel and halve the pears, then cut each pear crosswise in 1/8 inch slices. Try to keep each half intact, as this is the secret to the pretty fans.
To assemble:
Pour about half the filling into your pre-baked tart shell. One at a time, lift the pear halves into the tart with the narrow end facing center. You might find a spatula helpful for this. Gently press down on the pear to separate and fan the slices so that the half occupies one radius or spoke of the pie. Once all the pear halves that will fit are in place, pour the remainder of the filling around them (try to avoid pouring directly on top of the pears).
Place on a baking sheet, then into the oven for 50-60 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 min before removing the tart ring (or springform ring if you're me..)
You could serve this with whipped cream or caramel ice cream, but it is so good plain that you really don’t need to.
brown butter pear pie

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