2 weeks ago
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
This is a very special week for Tuesdays with Dorie, as the great Dorie Greenspan herself has chosen this week's recipe for a French Pear Tart from her amazing cookbook, Baking: From My Home To Yours:
I've gotten endless pleasure baking from this fabulous book, but even with baking from it weekly over the past five months, I haven't even begun to make a dent in it. There are seemingly endless decadent desserts in here, so to have the chance to make THE ONE picked by Dorie is truly exciting.
I had some important preliminary decisions to make. The crust calls for a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom. I did not have, and could not get in time, a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom, so I had to choose from the following: (1) an 11" tart pan with a removable bottom; (2) a 4 inch mini tart pan with a removable bottom; or (3) a 9" pie dish with straight sides but no removable bottom. I knew that I wanted to make a mini for sure. But I felt that for my first go-round I should go with the pan that was closest in size to the one called for in the recipe, and decided to go with the 9 inch pie dish and serve it from the dish. This way, I'd have an idea about what this thing was supposed to look like before I started winging it with a mini. And seeing as only my hubs and I would be eating it, there wasn't really anyone to impress with my tart de-panning prowess (not that I don't care about impressing you, David). But if all worked out according to plan, I'd still get the full out-of-pan tart experience with my mini.
Next, I had to pick pears -- fresh or canned? Dorie's narrative introducing the recipe suggests that canned pears are not only acceptable for this tart, but the most common choice among Parisian pastry chefs. When one of the world's most renowned bakers tells me it's okay to use canned fruit, I'm going to use canned fruit. That, plus the fresh pears at Publix weren't looking so hot.
I then made a double recipe of the sweet tart dough(without nuts), with the intention of using half of the dough for my 9" tart/pie/thing, and the rest of it for the mini tarts. This is the second Dorie pastry dough I've made -- the first was the Good For Anything Pie Dough. Dorie has the most wonderful and foolproof pastry crust recipes around, hands down. Her instructions explain not only what the dough should look like at various stages, but also note things like how the food processor will start to make funny sounds when the dough is almost ready. As usual, I talked out loud to myself the entire time I was making this. I always assumed that David learned to tune me out years ago. Well, I got to the part where you process until the dough "forms clumps and curds," assessed my dough, and said "hmmmm. I guess I think those look like cumps and clurds." At which point David looked up from whatever game he was watching and said "Whoa, careful now! If you have cumps and clurds, you might end up with a torte instead of a tart." Yup, no doubt about it -- you're definitely the one for me, honey.
Sweet Tart Dough, full of cumps and clurds:
And pressed into the mini-tart pans:
I had lunch with Amanda on Monday, and she said that you know that someone really loves you if they make you a tart, because pressing the dough all the way up the sides and into all those nooks and crannies in the pan is no joke. We agreed that we might have devoted more time than we usually would to these particular tarts, however, trying to make them look pretty for Dorie. Just in case.
I made the almond cream two ways. For my 9" tart, I used Meyer's dark rum instead of vanilla, and unblanched almonds instead of blanched almonds, because blanching them was way more tedious than ehow led me to believe it would be. For my mini tart, I cut the recipe in half and used vanilla and blanched almonds (I found them already blanched at the store -- score one for the lazy chick!)
I made my 9" tart first. Assembling this thing kind of stumped me. There is not a picture of this tart accompanying the recipe in the cookbook, and the P&Q wasn't up yet, so I had a hard time understanding what I was supposed to do with the pears. The instruction reads: "Thinly slice each pear half crosswise. Lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it over the almond cream, wide end towards the end of the crust. The 6 halves will form spokes." Now that I know what the tart is supposed to look like, those instructions are as clear as day, but at the time, I just couldn't quite visualize it. It was the same experience I have when I read about the current financial crisis being rooted in "credit default swaps on mortgage backed securities." Even though I read the words over and over again, I just don't quite get it.
And therefore, I did this with my pears:
I suspected that wasn't right because I only used up 3 pear halves rather than the 6 the recipe called for. When I checked the P&Q later, I followed a link to a picture of what the pears were supposed to look like, and I was able to do it the proper way the next day with my mini tart:
I've mentioned before that I've been warned by standardized testers that I should never, ever trust my own instincts regarding spatial relations. Here's why:
I initially eyeballed my mini tart and thought I could fit two pear halves side by side next to each other. No. Not by a long shot. I had to dig out that off-centered pear (which had been intended to be part of a pair of pears) and move it over a couple of inches to become the lone, centered pear.
When I waited tables after college, André, the head chef at the restaurant where I worked, would often stop me in the kitchen on a busy Saturday night and say: "I should have been a pastry chef, Cat. That's where all the glory is." I didn't understand what he meant at the time, because the blackened chicken sandwiches we were churning out seemed plenty glorious to me compared to what I had been getting in the school cafeteria. But now I get it. Glory will come to those who can make a French Pear Tart (I'm still waiting, but any day now, I just know it!) Needless to say, I was completely blown away by these tarts. I've made some amazing desserts with Tuesdays With Dorie, but this tart has now set the new standard against which all other TWD recipes will be measured.
I preferred my mini tart (with the vanilla in the almond cream) to the larger tart (with the rum in the almond cream), but that could have been because there was a much higher pear-per-bite ratio in my mini-tart because I assembled that one the right way, whereas I accidentally skimped on the pears in the big one. Therefore, I thought the dominant flavor in the 9" tart was rum, and if I've learned anything through TWD, it's that I don't like a strong liquor taste in my desserts. David loved them both. Oh, and I thought the sweet tart crust was absolutely phenomenal. If I couldn't have the pear tart, I'd be happy with a dessert of crust crusted crust. I'm thrilled that I still have three mini crusts in my freezer. Now that I have my first tart under my belt, I can't wait to fill the rest of them up! Thank you, Dorie, for your amazing cookbook, for your support of this group, and for choosing this fabulous French Pear Tart for us this week!