When you do nothing to your pear tree but leave it be, you can expect trouble. And trouble came to my friend in the form of dozens and dozens and dozens of bug-free, blemishless, picture perfect pears. Her punishment? Driving some over to me. That’ll teach her.
I asked her what she likes to do with pears and she mentioned dipping them in chocolate. But that seemed too easy. Besides, I’m breaking out of my pastry-phobic rut and needed something to put in my pate sucree dough. So I made a pear and chocolate tart. A bit askew, but not bad given the swarm of fruit flies hounding me as I worked.
So, where’s the chocolate? Underneath the slivered pears and cream custard, hiding quietly to surprise you.
I used a new-to-Canada product called Cacao Barry by Callebaut. I was given a sample at the Women’s Culinary Network’s Woman of the Year party for Elizabeth Baird and squirreled it away in a high cupboard awaiting a special occasion. Pears from my best friend and pastry made on my dearly departed Aunt Hilda’s special board seemed the perfect excuse to break out this treat. The chocolate was dark, flavourful and melted beautifully. Best of all? It didn’t require chopping.
See, without any intervention on my part it dissolved into a decadent layer just waiting to be discovered.
Unlike the sugary Pink Angel Squares with mile-high icing and gooey coconut filling, this dessert isn’t very sweet. Instead, it’s very rich. With eggs, yolks and cream, you won’t need any sauces or even ice cream. Just a fork and maybe a secluded corner to sneak away to so no one will ask you to share.
Next time, I’m thinking I’ll add a good handful of crystallized ginger to the custard. Got a favourite way to use up pears? Share a link. Share a photo. I’m on a roll and looking for more challenges.
- 1 (10½ or 11 inch) Pate Sucree tart shell
- 4 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I didn’t chop the Cacao Barry chips, they melted just fine)
- 5 or 6 medium-sized dessert pears, preferably Anjou or Bartlett, ripe but still firm and unblemished
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling
- seeds of ½ vanilla bean* or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1½ cups heavy cream (36%)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prick the bottom of the chilled tart shell all over with a fork. Line the bottom of the tart with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Fill the liner with dried beans or pie weights and place the shell on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are just colouring and the bottom of the pastry is beginning to cook. Remove the foil and weights and return the shell to the oven for another 10 minutes or until lightly browned all over.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Scatter the chopped chocolate evenly over the bottom of the cooled tart shell. Peel and halve the pears, then core them using a melon baller to scoop out just the round seed area. Place one pear half, cut-side down, on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, slice the pear into very thin slices across the axis (horizontally), keeping the shape intact (so even after it’s sliced, it still looks like an intact pear half.) Gently press your hand down upon the curve, fanning the slices back towards the wide end of the pear, like dominoes. Slide a palette knife under the sliced pear half, keeping the fanned shape, and transfer to the tart shell, with the narrow end facing the centre. Repeat with the other halves until the tart shell is full. Don’t worry about covering the whole surface; any space between the fanned pear halves will be filled with custard.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, ¾ cup sugar and the vanilla seeds. Add the cream and vanilla extract, if using, and whisk to combine. Pour the custard over the pears. (Depending on the size of your tart tin, there may be a little custard left over.) Sprinkle the surface of the tart with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and set the shell on a baking sheet to catch any drips.
- Bake the tart in the middle of the centre of the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce to heat to 375°F and continue baking until the custard is just set in the centre, about 40 to 50 minutes. Allow tart to cool completely before slicing. Serve the tart within 6 hours of baking and store any leftovers in the refrigerator.