Pear and Basil Tart
My partner, Dave, and I joined the Park Slope Food Co-op as soon as we moved to the neighborhood. Last Sunday, we finally did our first work shift there. I desperately wanted to do something physical, since I spend so much of my time at the court sitting at a desk and writing. More office work on the weekends would be awful. So, we ended up stocking produce and other items around the store for a few hours.
The problem with stocking produce is that you end up finding yourself hit with all these cravings as you flit about the store, handling food. The organic red Bartlett pears smelled so damn good, I just knew I had to take some home with me. And, oh, they were stocked right next to a bin of fresh basil. I had an amazing apricot basil truffle at the Chocolate Show last year, so it occurred to me that a pear and basil tart may end up really working as well. And almonds. It needed almonds, too.
Our first attempt at putting this idea together was a tart tatin. This wasn’t too brilliant, because we had to flip it out of the pan quickly before the caramel hardened, and we should have used a large cutting board to flip it onto and risked the mess as it fell rather than using a perfectly sized plate to hold it and lower it out from the overturned pan. That, or I should have worn towels over my arms. Some caramel dripped on me and I ended up with a few burns on my forearms. I’ll spare you a photo of the blister, but here you can see the tart tatin.
The regular tart version was much less painful to make, but the tart tatin actually tasted significantly better. The pears were softer, sweeter, because they were more drenched with caramel and because the layer of pastry on top kept all the moisture in while they were baking. The caramel really saturated the dough, especially around the edges, so we ended up with a candied almond-flavored crust that just blew me away.
We’ll experiment with this concept more, I think*, but I wanted to go ahead and share the first two versions for now. Just, please do take more precautions than I did if you make the admittedly tastier tart tatin variant.
For the pastry crust
2 C flour
1/2 C almond meal
1/2 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 C butter (slightly softened, but still cold)
1/2 tsp vanilla
For everything else
3 tbsp butter
1 C sugar
heavy cream (optional)
4 red Bartlett pears
Mix together the dry ingredients for the crust. Add the butter and mix or squish together by hand until the dough reaches a texture like bread crumbs. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until the dough just starts to come together. Slam it against a hard surface to remove the air bubbles, as you would if working with clay. Form it into a squat, chubby cylinder, and cut the cylinder in half so that you have two disks. Wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate them for at least half an hour, and up to twenty-four hours. Alternatively, you can stick them in the freezer and they’ll keep for a few months. This makes enough dough for two tarts, so that may end up being the way to go.
Slice the pears lengthwise into slices about 1/8″ thick, and pick it out the pits and stems. Leave the peel on. Wash the basil and pluck the leaves off the stems.
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Make the caramel by heating the butter and sugar together in a heavy saucepan until it reaches a nice color, stirring it from time to time. If you want a softer caramel, stir in some heavy cream. Personally, I preferred it without the heavy cream, so that the caramel gets hard and crunchy. With the clarity of hindsight, it occurs to me that had we used the softer caramel when we made the tart tatin, we could have waited longer to remove it and I may not have ended up getting burned. Anyways, if you make it without the cream, don’t make the caramel until just before you are ready to use it.
Dave prefers the texture of the softer caramel. As you can see, this did not stop him from licking the spoon after it cooled off and hardened when I was making the caramel without heavy cream.
Here, the methods differ depending on which sort of tart you plan to make.
For a regular tart:
Butter and flour a tart pan. Roll out your dough, put it in the pan. Pre-bake it with weights in for about 10 minutes. Take the weights out and continue to prebake it for another 10 minutes or so. Take it out of the oven and lower the heat to 375°. Cover the bottom of the tart with a layer of caramel, then put a thin layer of basil over that. A few layers of pear slices go over the basil. Put that mess back into the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or so, or until done.
For a tart tatin:
Use a large, oven-safe pan to make the caramel. Once it is done, arrange a layer of pears in the caramel in the pan, and a layer of basil atop the pears. Roll out the dough into a circle sized to your pan, and carefully drape it over everything else in the pan. This will probably end up messy around the edges, but that’s fine – the more the caramel leaks around the dough, the more candied the crust will end up. Put the pan in the oven and bake at 425° for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 375° and bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until done.
If you have made your caramel without the heavy cream, as I prefer, you’ll have to remove the tart from the pan as soon as you take it from the oven, or the caramel will harden too much. Use towels that cover your arms all the way up, or a thick jean jacket you don’t mind washing immediately or long silicone gloves. Use a platter or cutting board larger than the pan – hold it against the pan, then flip them together so that the tart falls out. Scrape out any edges bits that may have stuck and arrange them with the rest. Don’t worry, the caramel will glue it all together.
Enjoy, good luck, and try not to hurt yourselves too much!
* Actually, I know that we’ll experiment with this concept more. Our pillow talk last night was all about pureeing the basil, or steeping the cream in it before using the basil cream for making the caramel, or covering the tart pan during the last stage to keep more moisture in, &c.