Updated: Nov 14, 2020
This is a pie that I've made for a long time. I would make the poached pears for dinner parties, then I started fanning them out on puff pastry rounds as individual galettes and finally I took the plunge and made a large version with an almond frangipane/cream. I've toyed around with it a lot so feel free to do the same, particularly with flavours. But here is a version I feel works really well. These are all ingredients I had in the cupboard so if there's anything in the list of spices you don't have, don't worry - especially at the moment! Even with just lemon and honey and maybe a splash of cointreau or marsala wine, it'll taste great.
Serves 8, generously
You'll need: a 23cm diameter (preferably loose-bottomed), deep quiche/flan/tart dish
First, poach the pears (preferably the day before)
Ingredients: 8 firm pears (I use Conference or Migo Pears)
5 Tbsp clear honey (though I used Manuka for this - don't judge - I only used what I had in the cupboard!)
Juice of three lemons
500mL/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods, gently squeezed to slightly open
a pinch of saffron threads
2-3 Tbsp orange blossom water
Heat the honey and lemon juice in a heavy pan that will fit the pears snugly. Stir over a low heat until the honey has dissolved. Add the water, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, saffron and orange blossom water. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Peel the pears, leaving the stalks intact. Add the pears to the pan and simmer for about 20 minutes. Turn the pears very gently and baste at intervals (you don't want to ruin the appearance of the flesh with a pair of tongs), until they're just tender. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight or for a few hours in their liquid.
Then, make the pastry shell - preferably do this the night before, too!
This is a traditional French 'Pâte Sucrée aux Amandes' (sweet almond pastry) recipe that I've tweaked a bit.
Almond Pastry shell
125g butter, very cold
70g icing sugar, sifted
30g ground almonds/almond flour
1 pinch sea salt
215g plain flour
Cut the butter in to small pieces and place in a bowl. Beat with a hand mixer (or use a mixer with a paddle attachment - I actually sometimes use a food processor with a decent result). Add the icing sugar and incorporate it in to the butter well, then do the same with each of the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Try not to overwork the dough (that said, I have before and it is a little softer, but still lovely) Form it in to a ball, cover in plastic wrap (This pastry is just too sticky for beeswax or paper, alas, but you could squeeze it in to a plastic container). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 170°C and grease the 23cm tart pan well. On a floured bench-top or board, roll the pastry out to about 3mm thickness - no thicker unless you want a thick, biscuity crust. If it breaks, don't worry - just patch it up and work it in to the edges, using your fingers to smooth out the cracks if there are any. Cut or tear off some greaseproof baking paper/parchment, with at least 5cm overhang, place gently on to the raw pastry and fill with ceramic baking beads or raw dried legumes - chickpeas are good. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the beads using the paper as a sling and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes. Make sure the crust is COMPLETELY cool before filling.
Frangipane/Almond cream/Crème d'Amandes
100g butter, carefully softened
100g icing sugar
150g ground almonds/almond flour
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 Tbsp plain flour
1 Tbsp brandy (or rum)
Cream the butter and sugar with the hand mixer, then add the remaining ingredients, beating well after each addition, especially after the eggs. You want it to be like creamed cookie mixture, so that it retains some aeration during the baking and the pears don't sink in.
Assembling the pie
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Spoon the frangipane in to the cold pastry shell. You want a gap of about 1cm from the top edges of the pastry shell, so you may have a little left over. Use a rubber spatula to smooth it out. Then, remove the pears from the liquid but keep the liquid! Slice each pear in to 4-5 vertical slices to about 2cm away from the stalk to avoid breakage. I like to trim the cheeks slightly so they fit nicely with a flat surface in to the next one, if that makes sense. Then, VERY carefully fan the pear out on the board and cut out the calyx (the hard bit at the bottom) and seeds. Lift it carefully to the pie dish and place in a nicely-fanned way with the stalk facing the centre of the pie. Continue with the rest - you'll probably have 2 pears left over. I always like having those extra two because it means I have backup if one falls apart and I can use them for other luscious baked goods. Anyway, I digress. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until frangipane is golden wherever it's exposed. While it's baking, strain the pear liquid in to a small pot and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and have it on a fast simmer (do keep stirring form time to time) to reduce the liquid until it's about a third of its original volume. Once the tart is cooked, remove and cool slightly before brushing on the reduced liquid as a lovely glaze. When the tart is cool, gently ease the ring of the tart dish away - it may need help with a knife around the top edge if any frangipane has overflowed slightly - and serve! You can serve it warm with icecream or cream... or really any way you want to.
If you have leftovers or would rather make individual tarts, use the same method (with a slightly shorter blind-bake) with a muffin tin. I did this with my pastry offcuts and leftover frangipane, using a mixture of the chopped pear-remains and some apple sauce from a roast pork lunch. I then topped them with flaked almonds and a couple of thin slices of pear, then baked for 20-25 minutes and glazed while hot (see last picture below). SO delicious and perfect for a sophisticated afternoon tea. Or with your coffee at breakfast time like I do...