Whenever I am about to prepare a dessert, I wonder how to make it healthy and nourishing without compromising its taste or appearance. I often follow recipes from France because they produce great results, but knowing that their mouth-watering qualities 🍰 are achieved with generous amounts of butter, cream and yolks, I share such recipes with some sense of guilt.
As much as I appreciate all plant-based recipes, I have to admit that in some, the traditional ingredients work best – on condition that they are good quality and fresh. Vegan and gluten free options often can be very satisfying, but, unfortunately, sometimes the texture and flavor of the baked goods seem off.
In this post, I am sharing the traditional recipe for a pear tart, which can be easily transformed into a gluten free version substituting regular flour for a combination of flours such as almond, rice and oat. For me, oat and almond work best, but even those gluten free flours will make the dough more breakable and quite challenging to work with.
The fall is the best season to take a full advantage of the abundance of that sweet and juicy fruit🍐🍐: they make a wonderful autumn treat and are perfectly suitable for pies and tarts.
The best for baking are Bosc and Anjou. They are firm enough to keep their shape and texture throughout the baking process. Make sure that pears selected for the tart are not too ripe – they should be crunchy and quite hard, rather than soft and mushy.
The baked tart is generously sprinkled with chopped, toasted hazelnuts whose crunchiness nicely complements the buttery firmness of pears.
Ingredients for crust (pate sablée dough):
- 1 1/2 cup flour (170g)
- 1/4 cup castor or powdered sugar (50 g)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, preferably European brand, softened and cut into small bits (120g)
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vanilla or 1 sachet vanilla sugar
- 2-3 tbsp ice water (as needed)
- 4-5 Bosc or Anjou pears, peeled, cored and sliced (save 1/4 pear for the cream)
Blend the flour, sugar and salt. Add the cold bits of butter and mix by hand until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Another option: process the mixture on pulse mode in a food processor.
Add the egg yolks (one at a time) and vanilla, and continue mixing with hand until they are incorporated and the mixture resembles a fine meal. Stir in the ice water with hand, one tablespoons at a time, until the mixture is moistened enough to gather and mold into a ball.
Wrap the dough with plastic and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. The dough may be frozen for up to two months.
Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, and allow to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough. Lift and turn it as you work, keeping the work surface dusted with flour to prevent sticking. Fit the dough into a tart pan and press it firmly against the sides and bottom without stretching it. Trim off the excess dough, cover and chill it in the pan for at least 30 minutes before baking. Save the scraps.
How to “blind bake” the tart.
“Blind baking” is the term for pre-baking of the crust without its filling. When the crust is baked “naked”, it is best to use pie weights to prevent it from shrinking or forming air pockets that may bubble up during baking. They weight down the dough to keep it firmly nestled against the tart pan.
Some people use ceramic weights purchased in a store or online for about $10.00 per set, but it’s common to use dried beans as weights, or, like in my case, small rocks. I found them at the beach in Michigan. At home, I put the rocks into boiling water to sanitize them and let them dry in the sun. Between bakings, they are stored in a glass container.
To bake the tart shell, prick the dough all over with a fork, line with a parchment paper circle cut to the tart’s size and place pie weights on top. Bake at 375° F (190° C) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.
How to fix the cracks in the dough:
If the dough cracks when you roll it, press the cracks together or patch it up with a little more dough. This dough is very forgiving and if comes apart in the pan before or after the blind-bake, you can patch up the cracks with a bit of the saved scraps of the dough. That should fix the cracks once you fully bake the crust.
While the tart is “blind baking” in the oven, prepare the hazelnut cream.
Ingredients for the hazelnut cream:
- 1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces, softened
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup hazelnut flour or ground hazelnuts
- 1/4 pear, peeled and grated on a fine grater
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skin removed and chopped, for garnishing
Stir the butter with a spatula until soft. Add sugar and blend until well combined and smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and incorporate them well into the mixture. Mix in the hazelnut flour or ground hazelnuts and blend well again. At the end add 1/4 grated pear and mix until well combined with the mixture. Fill the pre-baked and cooled tart shell with the cream and smooth it with a spatula or knife. Arrange sliced pears on top in a circular manner and bake for 35-40 minutes at 375 F.
In the meantime, prepare the toasted hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of the tart when ready. Spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until the skins look cracked. While the nuts are still hot, transfer to a dish towel; fold or close over the towel and rub energetically to dislodge the skins. Chop the skinned hazelnuts and generously sprinkle them on top of the baked and still hot tart.
And, traditionally, the post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the health benefits of pears.
- Pears have a low glycemic index (GI) of just 38 and that’s why we digest and absorb them slowly. That produces a gradual rise in blood glucose and insulin levels.
- Are high in soluble fiber, the type which reduces blood cholesterol. They contain folate, potassium, iron, fiber, vitamin B1 and B2, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and smaller amounts of other nutrients.
- Are hypoallergenic, meaning that their consumption doesn’t cause an allergic reaction.
- Contain vitamin C and copper – antioxidants protecting cells from damage by free radicals. Studies have shown that eating pears help protect women against postmenopausal breast cancer.
- Eating pears may improve lung function.
- The pectin in pears is diuretic and may have a mild laxative effect.
Note: The history of pear cultivation is quite long – it goes back about 4,000 years. They originated in the Caucasus region from where they spread to Europe and Asia. In the 18th century horticulturalists, mostly from Belgium and France significantly improved pear varieties. In the US, we can enjoy about 10 varieties, each with its distinctive taste, color and shape.