I’ve always loved apples. Come the first day of fall I’m dreaming of apple pie, apple butter, and warm apple cider spiked with brandy. The German in me loves applesauce with sausage. Don’t forget apple turnovers for breakfast and apple cider doughnuts! I liked pears, but never gave them much thought, until I came across this post on pears by Sarah at The Yellow House blog. Photos of the sun drenched pear orchard drew me in and her simple pear pie with a dark wheaty crust sealed the deal – I felt a sudden longing for pears.
Reading Nigel Slater’s book, Ripe, made me realize that appreciating this delicate fruit requires slowing down and spending the time to really get to know the pear. He writes,
“From the family Rosaccae, which includes meadowsweet, brambles, hawthorn, and quince, members of the Pyrus genus possess a sophistication that can only be dreamed of by the apple, with extraordinarily subtle hints of wine, rose, honey, and nuts. Occasionally you might detect a note of musk or a distant breath of aniseed. The apple has these too, but more obvious and upfront.”
I could quote the whole chapter, because it’s so beautifully written and on point about pears, but I will limit it to just one more sentence:
“At its point of perfection, an apple shouts, a pear whispers.”
I found some blushing red Bartletts at the farmer’s market and while they sat ripening on my kitchen counter, I pondered over how to cook with them. What led me to this recipe for Chocolate Pear Tart from Every Day Food, I’m not sure, but you must know I’ve got a deep, intense love for chocolat. Pears and chocolate is a classic combination, and it’s unbelievably good. For this recipe, a batter of ground blanched almonds, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and cocoa is quickly mixed together and spread in a tart pan. The instructions call for a food processor and a pan with a removable bottom, but I used what I had with no problems: a blender for grinding the almonds, a KitchenAid mixer for combining the ingredients, and a ceramic tart dish. Also, I didn’t have blanched almonds on hand, so I made my own by pouring boiling water from the kettle over regular almonds and steeping them for 1 minute before rinsing them in cold water and peeling off the skins. Make sure the almonds are dry before using them in this recipe (I left the nuts out on a baking tray overnight). Once the batter is made, it’s time to peel and slice the pears, rubbing the fruit with a slice of lemon to keep it from browning. My slices were not as perfectly uniform as the picture that accompanied the recipe, so instead of neatly overlapped pears atop a chocolate tart I ended up with some sort of free form design that reminds me of an exotic flower. After the slices are gingerly placed atop the tart, it goes into the oven for about 50 minutes, until just about set. Once the tart is cool a glaze is brushed onto the pears, which makes them shine like stars against the dark chocolate filling. Serve at room temperature with an espresso or maybe a nip of pear brandy.
Chocolate Pear Tart is easy to put together and pretty much guaranteed to turn out well. The pears soften under the heat of the oven, and their sweet, floral flavor is not overpowered by the cocoa, rather, enhanced by it. Almonds and almond extract lend a mellow, nutty flavor that keeps the tart from being overly heavy and rich with chocolate. It’s one of those rustic yet sophisticated desserts for a spectacular end to a special autumn dinner. Chocolate Pear Tart is best the day it’s baked, but the husband and I nibbled on it for three days, and it’s quite nice with a cuppa tea in the afternoon.
Chocolate Pear Tart
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
- 1 cup whole blanched almonds
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- 3 firm, ripe Bartlett pears
- 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons apple jelly