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Caramelized Pear Tart

February 8, 2010
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I don’t associate winter with fruit desserts.  Maybe that’s because I don’t love any of the wintery fruits.  In the fall I had some very bad experiences with pears (mostly where I would buy a perfect-looking pear at the farmer’s market and two days later it would be rotten) and I just don’t like apples, so why bother? 

However, I do try to use seasonal produce and a girl can’t just eat peanut butter chocolate pie, pecan pie and cinnamon rollsAt least get some vitamins in there.  I decided I had to give pears another shot.  My waist-line demanded it. 

This was incredibly simple to make: all I needed was some pears, butter, sugar and pastry dough. 

I’m not sure what inspired me to make this pear tart… whatever it was, it’s opened up a whole new realm of desserts that I’ve realized I can make easily and cheaply (my favorite go-to ingredient, good chocolate, never falls into the “cheap” category). Next up: tarte tatin!

Caramelized Upside-Down Pear Tart

(Adapted from Gourmet 2003, who attributes it to one Betty Caldwell)

This dessert almost needs to be served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream– otherwise the pear can be a bit overpowering.  Also, if your pears are enormous, as mine were, I would recommend not using the whole pear and cutting it into quarters lengthwise and setting them on the diagonal instead of halves.

  • 4 large firm-ripe Bosc pears (2 pounds total)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pastry dough (recipe below)

Peel and halve pears, the core (preferably with a melon-ball cutter). Heat butter in a 9- to 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet with wide parts at rim of skillet. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and cook, undisturbed, until sugar turns a deep golden caramel. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on pears, skillets, and stove.) Cool pears completely in skillet.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and trim to a 9 1/2- to 10 1/2-inch round. Arrange pastry over caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears inside rim of skillet. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cook on rack 5 minutes.

Invert a rimmed serving plate (slightly larger than skillet) over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto plate. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

Pastry Dough

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 2 tablespoons ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. (Do not overwork, or pastry will be tough.)

Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together with scraper and press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. Chill dough, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

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