Normandy Pear or Apple Tart
This is certainly one of the most impressive of the French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but is also very good cold and it keeps for several days. Splash in a little kirsch if you are using pears and calvados if you are using dessert apples.
4-5 ripe pears or apples, poached
200g (7oz/scant 2 cups) flour
110g (4oz/1 stick) cold butter
1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic
pinch of salt
3-4 tablespoons (3-4 American tablespoons + 3-4 teaspoons) cold water
100g (31/2oz/scant 1 stick) butter
75g (3oz/scant 1/2 cup) castor sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk, preferably free range
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) kirsch if using pears or calvados if using apples
110g (4oz) whole blanched almonds, ground or 1/2 ground almonds and 1/2 blanched and ground
25g (1oz/1/4 cup) flour
150ml (1/4pint/scant 1/4 cup) approx. apricot glaze
23cm (9inch) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a removable base
First make the shortcrust pastry,
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and add the water.
Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.
Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.
Next poach the pears and allow to get cold. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4. Roll out the pastry, line the tart tin with it, prick lightly with a fork, flute the edges and chill again until firm. Bake blind for 15-20 minutes.
Next make the frangipane. Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and flour and then add the kirsch or calvados. Pour the frangipane into the pastry case spreading it evenly. Drain the pears well and when they are cold cut them crosswise into very thin slices, then lift the sliced pears intact and arrange them around the tart on the frangipane pointed ends towards the centre. Arrange a final half pear in the centre.
Turn the oven up to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6. Bake the tart for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden.
Meanwhile make the apricot glaze. When the tart is fully cooked, paint generously with apricot glaze, remove from the tin and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.
Wine suggestion: A chilled dessert eg. Muscat de Beaumes de Vensie
Apricot glaze is invaluable to have made up in your fridge. It would always be at hand in a pastry kitchen and is used to glaze tarts which contain green or orange or white fruit, eg. kiwi, grapes, greengages, peaches, oranges, apples or pears. It will turn you into a professional at the flick of a pastry brush!
In a small saucepan (not aluminium), melt 350g (12oz) apricot jam with the juice of 1/4 lemon, water - or enough to make a glaze that can be poured. Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in an airtight jar. Reheat the glaze to melt it before using. The quantities given above make a generous 300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) glaze.
225g (8oz/1 cup) sugar
600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) water
a couple of strips of lemon peel and juice of 1/2 lemon
Bring the sugar and water to the boil with the strips of lemon peel in a non-reactive saucepan. Meanwhile peel the pears thinly (leaving the stalk on if you like), cut in half and core carefully with a melon baller or a teaspoon, keeping a good shape. Put the pear halves into the syrup, cut side uppermost, add the lemon juice, cover with a paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the pears are just soft - the tip of a knife or skewer should go through without resistance. Turn into a serving bowl, chill and serve on their own or with homemade vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce, in which case you have Poires Belles Helene - one of Escoffier's great classics.