This happens to be one of the fanciest-looking tarts in Tart It Up! Sweet and Savory Tarts and Pies, by Eric Lanlard, and, at first glance, it looks impossible for us to tackle. But, here at Scratchin’ Central, we tackled it with a vengeance, just so you could, too. In case the title of this post doesn’t warn you, making this tart takes two days, which sounds intimidating, but, we’re not going to be intimidated, are we? Nope! Not us. Let’s get to it.
Since the pears for this tart need to steep overnight, and the crust could chill overnight, we thought the best way of writing this recipe was to break it into two pieces, each piece describing exactly what we needed to do on each day. That way, you can see that nothing in this tart is beyond your capabilities, and, in fact, it’s actually a pretty easy tart to put together.
Eggs: free-rangers are the way to go. Pears: We used organic (Bartlett pears) to avoid the pesticides. Use a variety that you like, and, ideally, you want ripe pears; leaving them on the counter until the neck is just soft works. Butter, should be unsalted. Why let a complete stranger salt your food? Chocolate: no skimping. Go for the gusto and get the best you can afford. Vanilla beans: yes, they’re expensive. We buy them in bulk over the Internet, still pricey, but, oh, so worth it. You might think of going in with friends and family and purchasing a pound of vanilla beans. When they arrive invite everyone over for their share.
Procedure in detail:
Today, we have several tasks to complete: Making the crust dough, poaching the pears, making vanilla sugar, and toasting and skinning the hazelnuts. Nothing really tough, so we’ll take it step by step, starting with the crust dough.
Mix flour and sugar. We took the time to measure the flour by weight into a sifter and sift it. If you measure by weight, you really don’t need to sift these days, but, sometimes, we like to break it out for old times’ sake. Plus, it’s not that hard. Then measure the sugar right on top, and mix in with a whisk or spoon.
Add butter. First a confession. We made our crust incorrectly, so we want to make sure that you do it right. The original instructions called out the amount of butter in ounces; unfortunately, we mistook it for tablespoons, so we didn’t have enough butter, making our crust tough. So, add those 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) of butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until your mixture is the consistency of a coarsely- ground meal. Try to do this quickly so the butter doesn’t melt.
Add remaining crust ingredients. Make a well in the center, add the egg, the vanilla extract, and the ice water, and mix. Just mix it up with your fingers, keep mixing, more, a little more. That’s it. Perfect, now you have a smooth uniform dough.
Refrigerate. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and pop it in the refrigerator. We’re now finished with the dough for today. Not bad, right? And, that was about the most difficult thing we’re doing for the tart today.
Now, let’s move on to the poached pears. Basically, we’re going to be cooking them in a vanilla-flavored simple syrup. That’s it.
Mix sugar, water, and vanilla bean. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, put it in a saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, and slowly bring it to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Don’t forget to remove, rinse, dry, and save the vanilla bean tomorrow.
Prep pears. Peel the pears — we used a vegetable peeler — and cut them in half. If your pears are ripe, you should be able to scoop out the core with a small spoon or even a melon baller. We had to use a knife on a few of ours.
Simmer pears. Drop the pears in the simmering simple syrup, cover, and let the pears cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are quite tender. A knife should slide into them easily. Remove from heat and let cool.
Refrigerate. Once they’ve cooled a bit, place the pears, still in the saucepan, in the refrigerator to let the vanilla infuse into the pears. That’s everything we need to do for the pears today.
Make vanilla sugar. Some people make a quart of this at a time. We don’t bother, since we can easily make it the day before, and have no problem reusing the vanilla bean many times. So, find a container with a lid, measure out the 6 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, and bury the vanilla bean right in the middle. Cover and let it sit. That’s it for today. Tomorrow, you’ll want to remove and save the bean for a future recipe.
Last thing for today is toasting and skinning the hazelnuts. Don’t worry, it sounds as if it might be difficult, but you’ll see. It’s easy, too.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Bake hazelnuts. Pour a cup of hazelnuts onto a baking sheet — feel free to add a few more for snacking, we always do — and slide it into the oven. Let them bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the skins have split and are starting to fall off. They should smell really good right about now, too.
Let cool and skin. Let the hazelnuts cool for a few minutes, then place them in a towel and rub vigorously. The skins should come right off like magic. Place the nuts in a covered container, because we’re finished working on our tart for today.
So, the things we had to do today weren’t too bad, were they? The only things that really had to be done today were cooking the pears, and the vanilla sugar; the crust and hazelnuts could have waited until tomorrow. But, we figured that we might as well get these done, too. That way, tomorrow, we’ll only have the crust to bake, nuts to grind, custard to make, and the tart to assemble. Well worth it for a really upscale tart!