Monday, October 17, 2011

Pear, almond cream, tart. At length.

ometimes the route I take to a baking project is long and roundabout. In this case, I started well over a month ago thinking "oh hey, I should make pie crust with all this cream cheese that came out of my parents' fridge during the hurricane." Having subsequently moved, still with said cream cheese, it's now October, and the fruit available has changed completely. Fortunately, I moved to a location two blocks from a weekly, year-round farm market and despite the apple season fanatics, I found some lovely pears and bought 10.

Then I went looking for a recipe. I'd do it first, but that tends to result in a harried and expensive trip to several specialty stores looking for things like "espresso powder" and whatever. In this case, I got away with nothing more extravagant than a vanilla bean (albeit a bit of a ripoff at the local "My Organic Market").

Pear and almond cream tart pre-baking

So there I was with pears and cream cheese pie crust premade and waiting in the freezer (keeps for up to three months, yet I never pre-make enough for it to last more than one pie). A quick poke through my trusty bookshelf o' cookbooks, and I arrived at the inevitable conclusion: The Pie and Pastry Bible. Someday, I swear I'll use different books. Really. Having avoided apples especially because I'm tired of fruit-in-crust pies, I wanted something a little more interesting. The options were a gingery pear chiffon pie (which I had modified a couple years ago into a ginger and chocolate ganache pie for Thanksgiving) or pear almond cream tart.

Cookbook collection on the pantry shelf
Before I get into the things I'll do differently next time, let me just say that this is a very tasty, decent looking little open-faced pie/tart. However.

It started with the pre-baked crust. Ok, so the recipe called for the normal flakey pie crust, in a tart pan, and I was using cream cheese crust in a pie plate. It kinda shrunk a lot and got a bit too toasty on its own when it should have been a little underbaked in order to withstand the subsequent baking with filling. Still, super flakey, and actually incredibly tasty when dark brown and slightly caramelized with filling.

Pear almond cream pie, fanning of pears, cut
I also neglected to thoroughly process the almond flour/stuff. And to use blanched, sliced almonds. But that's just cause they come in "raw" in the bulk department. So, instead of what I assume was meant to be a smooth, creamy filling, I have a nutty, thick filling. It did manage to puff up (eventually) and has the texture of chewy meringue around the edges (also a little darker than necessary).

The poaching of the pears went well, though I recommend watching them a bit more carefully than I did and not getting distracted by other wildly exciting things like de-clogging the vacuum. yeah. I reserved some of the poaching liquid for my food and drink obsessed housemate to mix cocktails or something with. The vanilla bean was very worth it and can never, ever be substituted with vanilla extract, so don't even think about it.

Finished pear almond tart, meringue edges
In the video on Rose Levy Beranbaum's website (below), she has the pears sliced the short way across and fanned into little ridged mountains in the almond filling. It makes a kind of star pattern, but that didn't quite make sense to me visually, edibly or uh, logistically, so I fanned them lengthwise instead, with the intent that the almond filling could puff up between the slices. This mostly worked, but again I neglected to really thoroughly drain the pears, so the pie/tart took a lot longer to cook and was too wet in the center for most of the time.

This is kind of a long post for one little pie experiment, but I went searching the interweb for more info when the recipe didn't make sense and only easily found RLB's website. Hopefully this will help someone else. And also photos. It's blissful having a back porch to take things out on into natural light in order to photograph. The finished pie photo is from inside and at night (bleh!).