I talk about classic pairings a lot on this blog: peanut butter and chocolate is obviously my favorite, but macaroni and cheese, cinnamon and apples and many others are well known combinations. Pear and almond, especially in this classic French dish, is another one.
The almond filling you make here has a fancy French name: frangipane. It is buttery and sweet and rich from all the almonds, with a lightness from the egg. On top, of course, are the pears: I provide instructions to use fresh ones and poach them yourself, but you can just as easily buy canned pears to skip that step. In fact, my pastry school instructor said that even some bakeries in France start with pre-poached pears, so there's no shame there.
There are a few steps involved with this, yes, but they're easy to do in advance: the dough can be made the night before and stored in the fridge (or even earlier and put in the freezer), the almond filling can stay up to 2 days in the fridge and the pears as well. So you can make the components whenever you find the time and assemble it the day of, for that real wow factor.
1/2 cup (about 80g) ground almonds
1 tablespoon flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, softened
1 large egg
21⁄2 cups (300 g) flour
1 cup (200 g) butter or margarine
1⁄2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 large egg
1-2 cans pear halves OR
2-3 medium pears
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Optional: apricot jam
Mix together the almonds, flour and sugar for the filling. Beat in the butter until smooth, then add in the egg. Chill the almond mixture for at least three hours.
Beat together the butter and sugar for the crust until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat to combine, then add the flour and mix until no streaks remain. Gather the dough together into one cohesive ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
(If using canned pears, skip this step): Peel the pears and place in a large pot. Cover with water, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Remove the dough from the fridge, and roll out on a well-floured surface (and continuously reflouring) until about 1⁄2 centimeter thick. Use to cover either a large tart pan or smaller ones. For a large one, roll the dough to 2" larger than the pan, gently drape over it, fit the dough in to the corners then trim the edges. For little ones, use a cutter that is big enough to cover the bottom and sides of your tart pans, cut as many circles as possible from the dough and fit in to the molds, rerolling as necessary.
Prick the bottoms of the shells with a fork several times and put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Cover the shells with parchment paper then fill with pie weights or uncooked beans. Then bake the shells at 350 F for 15-20 minutes until light brown. Let cool.
Spread the almond mixture in the bottom of the pre-baked shell (or shells). If your pears are whole, carefully halve them and remove the seeds, then slice against the grain into thin slices. Arrange on to the almond mixture, fanning out the slices.
Bake on 350 F for 50 minutes to a hour, until the filling is golden and set. Let cool to room temperature. If desired, melt a little apricot jam and brush on top of the tart for added shine.
Amy Spiro is a journalist and writer based in Jerusalem. She is a graduate of the Jerusalem Culinary Institute's baking and pastry track, a regular writer for The Jerusalem Post and blogs at bakingandmistaking.com. She also holds a BA in Journalism and Politics from NYU.