Friday, November 23, 2007

Recipe: Caramelized Pear Custard Tart

Part of size and fat acceptance is, of course, learning to love food again. It should be our friend, not our enemy. It should be a thing of pleasure, not shame. When listening to our own bodies, we know what it needs, when we're hungry, and when we're full.

I'm a foodie (i.e. lover of good food), and love to cook. I'm a novice really, but I improvise well :-) Since a lot of my favorite foods are the result of experiments, I've decided that I will be occasionally sharing various creations that have tested well, using my wonderful friends and family as kitchen guinea pigs. They still volunteer, despite the very occasional horrific recipe failures :-) I'll try to keep recipes categorized by the labels at the bottom of the posts for easy reference. This is for the pear custard tart I came up with for my fellow foodie friends, and it sounds more complicated than it really is. I added the ground pecans for this Thanksgiving and it worked well.

You'll need:

3 large ripe pears (I like to use d'anjou or red pears)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
8 large egg yolks
1 egg white
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp Mexican vanilla, or 3 tsp extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 whole nutmeg or 1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup ground pecans
1 batch of standard chilled short dough, or 1 store-bought pie crust
1 1/2 lb package of Mascarpone cheese (cream cheese might work as a substitute, but the flavor might be too strong)

NOTES: The pears should be almost overripe, at their softest and sweetest. If you use vanilla instead of a vanilla bean (and I don't blame you, they're ridiculously expensive!) I highly recommend that you look for Mexican pure vanilla instead of the standard extract. It can often be found near the regular spices, in the international aisle if the store has one, or (much less expensive) at a Mexican grocery store. We've got a few in Michigan, and they're great for spices (including whole nutmeg) and harder to find items like Mole' sauce. I personally think the pure vanilla makes a big difference to the taste of desserts. It's stronger in flavor, so you would use approx. 3/4 the amount that you would extract in other recipes. The measurements in my recipes always assume Mexican vanilla.


A double boiler, or two pots that fit inside each other with at least 1/4 inch clearance around the sides (to allow steam to escape) and a handle or hook to keep the smaller one from sinking inside the larger one.
1 small (quart) saucepan
1 large frying pan with lid
a 10" nonstick springform round pan (a nonstick pie dish, tart dish or casserole dish will also work)
2 whisks
1 wooden spoon
mixer or hand mixer
fine grain mesh sieve or cheesecloth
large mixing bowl
parchment paper (found in baking supplies or cake decorating aisle)
1 large bag (volume of your baking dish) of dry beans or rice
nutmeg grater if not using powdered (fresh is always better)


Preheat oven to 350 F

Roll out the shortdough as thin as is workable. Fit it, or the pie crust, into the baking dish. Freeze for at least 1/2 hour (this keeps the sides from slumping during baking).
When dough is frozen, line the crust with parchment paper and fill to the top with dry beans or rice. (the weight keeps the dough from getting puffy. You can also use professional "pie weights")
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
Remove the beans/rice and parchment paper
Brush egg white onto entire surface of crust
Return to oven and bake an additional 10 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

Lower oven heat to 325 F

Core, peel, quarter, and slice pears no more than 1/8" thick
Melt 1/2 cup butter in large frying pan over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and stir until sugar is melted.
Add pear slices and cover. cook for approx. 20 minutes, stirring often. Turn heat down if mixture is rapidly boiling or starts to brown.
remove the pear slices from the caramel, and layer them in the bottom of the baked crust. Return the pan with the caramel to the heat, reduce to low/simmer and continue cooking throughout the preparation of the filling, stirring occasionally. If mixture thickens (i.e. drip a bit from the spoon and it retains its shape for a moment before smoothing out) reduce heat to lowest setting to keep it warm without cooking.

Set up large mixing bowl with mesh sieve over the top. Have the mixer ready and plugged in.
Empty the container of Mascarpone cheese into the mixing bowl.
Add water to bottom pot or bottom of double boiler until the top is floating 1 inch above bottom. Heat on high until boiling.
In the meantime, pour 1 cup cream into small saucepan. Slice Vanilla Bean lengthwise and add it, or add 1 tsp vanilla. Heat on medium-low, stirring often with a whisk, until simmering. Fish out the vanilla bean. Let simmer during next step.
When water in the bottom of the double boiler is boiling, reduce to medium. In the top pot, combine sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon, and egg yolks. Have the whisk ready because you must begin whisking the mixture the moment the egg yolks touch the pot and not let up for at least 10 minutes, or else you will get little egg chunks in your custard. The mixture will eventually thicken to a pudding-like consistency and begin to hold its shape (aka soft peak). When it does, begin to temper in the cream from the other pot, whisking as you go. Continue to cook/whisk for an additional two minutes.
Remove the filling from the double boiler and pour through the mesh sieve into the large mixing bowl to remove any egg bits that evaded the whisk. As soon as it's in, set the mixer to high to mix in the mascarpone until smooth. Beat for an additional minute.

Fill the baking dish approx. 1/2 way with the custard mix.
sprinkle the ground pecans over the mix
Gently add another layer of custard mix until 1/2 inch from the top
Stir the caramel on the stove and remove from heat. Pouring in a fine line, or using a spoon, criss-cross the top of the custard mix so that the caramel is distributed evenly over the custard (it will sink into the top layer)

Bake at 325 F for 30-40 minutes, or until moderately firm. If you have a deeper dish it will take longer. The center can be a little wobbly (it'll firm up more as it cools).
As soon as it comes out of the oven, sprinkle/grate nutmeg over the top.
Serve when cooled to slightly above room temperature with a slightly acidic dessert wine.

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