See that girl on the bus – the one who just missed her stop because she had that faraway look in her eyes – that’s me. I wish I could say I was thinking of important things like global warming or world peace or even that important presentation I have to give at work tomorrow. But more often than not, I’m either dreaming of what I’m going to cook up next or making up stories in my head. Is nutmeg just the thing that batter needs? Is that man bringing those flowers to woo his estranged wife? These are the directions my thoughts take. It’s either that or I have my nose deep in a book. Whatever may be the case, you know I’m missing that stop. (I put it down to exercise.)
Sometimes, my recipes and stories intermingle in my head and make friends with each other. Like when I made those Audrey Hepburn cupcakes inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This time it was Michael Wallner’s April in Paris that caught my fancy. It’s about a young soldier in the SS, who disguises himself as a Frenchman while off-duty, and falls in love with a beautiful French girl. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s sad. Let me tell you something about sad endings – I hate them. In my alternate universe, Rhett and Scarlett live happily in Gone with the Wind, Jenny doesn’t die in Love Story and Jo marries Laurie in Little Women. I know it’s not practical, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for happy endings. In my version of the ending in Wallner’s beautiful book, it is April in Paris, the war is over and the two protagonists are sitting outdoors at their favorite café. The morning light is soft and dappled as it filters through the trees and they sit close together, sharing stolen kisses and a simple tart with their café au lait…
I was so lost in the story I had missed my stop again and found myself getting off near the market. I’d call it a happy accident but who was I kidding? I wanted that tart. The air had turned crisp and cold – fall was announcing its silent arrival. At the market, I picked up some beautiful pears dreaming of them snuggled up in a warm blanket of almond and cinnamon cream. Wanting to sneak in the last bit of summer into the tart, I bought some of the season’s last peaches. I lugged my bounty home and pulled down Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours. Still caught up in my story, I knew I wanted to make a French Pear Tart and who better to turn to than Dorie?
I played around with the recipe as I’m wont to do. I used my trusty old recipe for a flaky, golden crust. (I’ve used this recipe for ages and it has never let me down.) I reduced the sugar and upped the almonds in the cream, adding Amaretto for decadence and cinnamon for warmth. On this plush bed, I pillowed slices of poached pears infused with some more Amaretto, lemon and cinnamon. The peaches added a last bit of summer brightness.
As soon as I saw the tart come out glistening and golden from the oven, I knew this was going to be my post for the first Project Food Blog* challenge. But what about those sophisticated and complex recipes you’ve been dreaming up, said this little voice at the back of my head. Of all the things you could do, you’re going to submit a post with a simple tart? (The voice had grown incredulous by now.) But my first bite of buttery crust, rich almond cream and luscious, warm fruit effectively silenced that nagging voice. Because sometimes, a simple homemade tart is all you need for a happy ending, don’t you think?
*PFB voting is now open. If you enjoyed this post, you can vote for it here. I’d really appreciate it.
1 partially baked 8-inch crust as per this previous recipe
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups blanched ground almonds
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
2 tablespoons Amaretto (or substitute 2 teaspoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
2 medium peaches, firm but ripe
(You can substitute all the ingredients below with 6 canned pear halves, sliced lengthwise)
3 medium pears, firm but ripe
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Amaretto
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
To make the almond cream:
1. Process the butter and sugar in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Add the almonds and process until well blended.
2. Add the flour, cornstarch, cinnamon and egg and process just until the mixture is homogeneous.
3. Blend in the liqueur.
4. Use the cream immediately or refrigerate covered for up to 2 days.
To prepare the fruit:
1. Peel and slice the peaches lengthwise.
2. To poach fresh pears: Bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and Amaretto to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Lower the heat and cook whole, peeled pears in the simmering syrup until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 mins. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup. If using immediately, slice pears lengthwise or refrigerate covered up to 1 day.
3. (If you want to use the syrup as a glaze, cook it down further over medium heat till it is reduced by half.)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
2. Fill the prebaked crust with the almond cream.
3. Arrange the pear and peach slices alternately over the almond cream.
4. Place the crust on a lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 mins or until the almond cream puffs up and browns.
4. Transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature before unmoulding. Serve dusted with confectioners’ sugar or glazed with poaching syrup and garnished with sliced almonds.