Pear Delight

I was only turned on to the delights of a ripe pear a few years ago in a late summer market in Sully-sur-Loire. It was the last few weeks of researching a guide to the Loire Valley. We’d just visited the wine region of Sancerre as grape pickers were starting the harvest. Bending double between the vines, snatches of their lively conversation carried toward us on a light autumnal breeze. After exploring the old town and tasting some of the local goat’s cheese, we continued our journey following the Loire downstream and ended up in Sully where we found a small hotel to stay the night.  Awoken by what seemed an inordinate amount of traffic for such a sleepy looking town, I opened the shutters the following morning and there was the local market in full swing. The centre of the town was completely packed with stalls and vans, overflowing with the fresh local produce we’d come to expect on our trips to the Loire. Now though, there was the wonderful smell of ripe fruit on the air.  Apples – green, red, yellow, streaky, russety and rosy with names that had become very familiar like Reine de Reinette (the classic apple for Tarte Tatin), and others that were a revelation. And then there were pears. Long, short, stout or skinny, dimpled and smooth, green and pink, speckled and shiny, the delicious peary perfume was overwhelming.

Pears are now a regular part of my dessert repertoire, a recent favourite being Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall’s Pear and Almond Pudding Cake (River Cottage 2009) which is great for an indulgent pudding among friends. Then the other week, I was watching The Hairy Biker’s Best of British, and there was the pear again. Combined with my favourite, the almond again, but this time with a tempting drizzle of dark chocolate melted into the filling. I couldn’t wait to try it.

I didn’t follow their recipe but I made a basic frangipane with pears, chocolate and flaked almonds.

Pear,-chocolate-and-almond-tart

Ingredients

Packet of all butter puff pastry (feuilleté) or make you own110g margarine
110g caster sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
110g ground almonds
a few drops of almond flavouring (optional)
40g dark chocolate
a sprinkle of flaked almonds to decorate
2 ripe pears (I used French Conference pears)

Heat the oven to around 200ºC.  Line an 8″ flan with your pastry but don’t trim the edges yet. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water on a low heat.  You can safely let this happen while you make the filling. In a bowl, beat the margarine and sugar until well combined and add the eggs a little at a time. If the mixture starts to curdle add a little of the ground almond or a spoonful of flour to stop this happening, then continue adding the eggs. Stir in the ground almonds and add a few drops of almond essence if you like a stronger almond flavour. Peel and quarter the pears, removing the centre pips and core. Now you can assemble the tart. Spoon in the almond filling and spread evenly. Arrange the pear quarters in a circle, fat ends to the outer edge. Now drizzle the melted chocolate randomly over the top and finally, sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Trim the edges of the pastry if you like a neat edge or you can roll it over for a puffed, more rustic appearance. Place the flan in the oven for about thirty minutes until it’s golden brown on top and firm to the touch.
This flan is best served warm with a dollop of crème fraiche on the side.

Recipe – Raspberry & Almond Tart

This is a delicious tart that could be served up any time of year. It’s an idea that came to me when I was trying to think how I could use a bowlful of fresh raspberries and a packet of feuillettée (puff) pastry from the fridge. Although I always make my own shortcrust pastry, having puff pastry to hand means I can always put something together quickly. My favourites are a simple fruit topping on a base of crême fraiche and an egg whisked together with a little sugar and maybe some spice if it’s apple. Alternatively, I make savoury parcels for dinner with a piece of salmon and some spinach, or simply  vegetables in a creamy sauce.  Today, I thought about making a kind of Bakewell Tart using fresh fruit instead of jam but putting the fruit on the top. The result is a gloriously light and colourful dessert which can be served warm or cold and it really doesn’t need anything else other than a glass of chilled white wine.

raspberry and almond tart
Raspberry and Almond Tart

100g margarine

100g caster sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

100g ground almonds

fresh raspberries, (cherries or blackcurrants would do equally well)

some flaked almonds

icing sugar (optional)

Remove the pastry from the fridge and leave to one side to soften. Beat together the margarine and the sugar until light and fluffy then add the eggs a little at a time keeping back a small amount to brush onto the pastry. Gently fold in the ground almonds.

Unroll the pastry onto a large shallow flan tin with a loose bottom. Spread the almond mixture over the base but not going right to the edge. Put the fruit on top, more or less covering the surface and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Taking the edge of the pastry between your fingers, lightly roll it inwards over the edge of the almond mix and brush the folds with the remaining egg. Bake for 30-35mins at 180C until the filling is golden brown.  Sift icing sugar over the flan just before serving.