With spectacularly cold weather blanketing much of America, my mind turns to wintertime baking and the double-pleasure of having a warm oven heating up the kitchen, while producing a warm, spice-kissed dessert to sweeten the evening and stave off the chill. When I spotted this easy, elegant recipe on Epicurious.com, I couldn’t wait to make it; and what a treasure it is. No hype here: It’s simple to make, beautiful to present, and just the sweet treat for a cold winter’s night. I like the simple piecrust, which uses both butter for flavor and richness, and a little shortening for that flaky texture beloved in Southern kitchens. The recipe makes one thick circle of pastry, which encloses the sweetly spiced bosc pears and plumps up to deliver the caramelized sauce they create as they bake. Use your own favorite piecrust recipe if you prefer; or a purchased piecrust; or frozen puff pastry, cut to a generous round and docked with a fork a few times. The top two photos show the piecrust recipe; the following two I made with a store-bought piecrust circle. -Look for bosc pears, the matte bronze ones widely available throughout the winter. Their tiny tapering tops and plump bases make a handsome design in this dish. Bosc pear’s colors range from flecked golden yellow to a milk-chocolate brown. Their elegant slender stems distinguish them, as does their very firm texture and distinctive shape.The first time I made this, I flipped the pear confection into a deep-dish glass pie pan, which easily captured all the juices and made serving simple. The second time, I turned it out onto a deep serving plate, one with enough room to hold the luscious pear-caramel sauce which we love.
I’ve included the recipe in this post, so scroll to the end to see it and print it out if you’d like. You can also click over to Epicurious’s website for the two recipes. Click HERE for the pear dessert and Click HERE for the piecrust recipe.Cinnamon alone spices up this dessert as written, but I may go with nutmeg next time, and caradamom is in the picture as well. I shall have it all memorized soon, making variations a simple pleasure. Variations, you say? The comments among the reviews on Epicurious for this recipe gave me lots more ideas, which I hereby pass along to you:
people add lemon juice and love it
people add candied ginger and love it.
people serve it from the pan as a cobbler
people increase the butter and sugar, while other people decrease same
people turn it out onto a deep plate that will hold the caramel sauce
I turned it out into a glass pie plate and served it like a pie the first time I made it. Then I flipped it onto a deep plate like a tart the second time. It’s just a winner all around.
- FOR THE PEAR FILLING:
- 2 pounds firm-ripe Bosc pears (3 to 5)
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- FOR THE PASTRY DOUGH: (or buy piecrust dough or frozen puff pastry)
- 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
- sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
- FOR THE TART:
- Peel, halve, and core pears.
- In a 9- to 10-inch ovenproof non-stick skillet or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides and stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved).
- Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet, with side parts at rim of skillet.
- Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and cook without stirring until sugar mixture forms a deep golden caramel. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on skillet and stove.) Cool pears completely in skillet.
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out dough into an 11-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and arrange over caramelized pears. (If you use prepared piecrust, just use the whole round and don't worry about its being a little more here and less there. All good.) Tuck edge around pears.
- Bake tart in middle of oven until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.
- Have ready a rimmed serving plate slightly larger than skillet.
- As soon as tart has finished baking, invert plate over skillet and, wearing oven mitts and keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert tart onto plate. (This is a bit scary, but it works!)
- Serve tart warm or at room temperature, with chilled whipped cream or ice cream.
- FOR THE PASTRY DOUGH:
- Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes.
- To blend by hand:
- In a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with remainder in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork until incorporated. Test mixture by gently squeezing a small handful: When it has proper texture it should hold together without crumbling apart. If necessary, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until incorporated, and test mixture again. (Do not overwork or add too much water; pastry will be tough.)
- To blend in a food processor:
- In a food processor pulse together flour, butter, shortening, and salt until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with remainder in small (roughly pea-size) lumps.
- Add 2 tablespoons ice water and pulse 2 or 3 times, or just until incorporated.
- Test mixture by gently squeezing a small handful: When it has proper texture it should hold together without crumbling apart. If necessary, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing 2 or 3 times after each addition until incorporated, and test mixture again.
- (Do not overprocess or add too much water; or else pastry will be tough.)
- To form dough after blending by either method:
- Turn mixture out onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions.
- With heel of hand smear each portion once in a forward motion to help distribute fat.
- Gather dough together and form it, rotating it on work surface, into a disk.
- Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day.
The pastry recipe works well and comes together easily. You can use prepared piecrust, as long as it 's in a smooth sheet which will cover the pears generously. Consider using two sheets of prepared piecrust as the crust is extremely delicious, and having a good solid top which becomes the base is ideal. Puff pastry wins high praise from reviewers; I haven't tried it but I plan to, and people rave about it. It can take time to get the caramel and the pears right, but it's simple and rewards are a gorgeous sweet finale. One reviewer said to leave it in the pan and scoop it out as a cobbler. Love that idea. This is a forgiving and easily varied dessert! Squeezing on lemon juice before cooking is a popular idea, as is adding candied ginger bits.