Best Tart Crust (my mom's recipe)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
6 tablespoons lard, chilled
5-6 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Sift flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and lard. Working quickly and using your fingertips, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal.
Sprinkle on ice water, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Take the dough out of the fridge, unwrap and leave it out for a few minutes so it warms up a little. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick round. Lift the pastry gently, wrapping round your rolling pin if easier, and place it over the tart mold. Working fast, lift up the edges of the pastry to allow it to relax into the base of each case and press in lightly. Leave any excess pastry round the edges to allow for shrinkage. Gently prick the bottom of the dough with a fork a couple times. Place a small circle of parchment (a little bigger than the size of the mold) in the center of the circle of dough and place some baking beans on top to weigh the paper down. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the tart turn a light shade of golden brown. Let the shells cool for a couple minutes, discard the beans and parchment paper and let cool on a cooling rack.
5 cups water
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
Granulated sugar for brûlée (optional)
For pears: Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
For frangipane: Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, vanilla and brandy. Blend until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread frangipane evenly in baked tart crusts. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling in center.
Bake tarts until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool tarts in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tarts from pan. Sprinkle a little granulated sugar over tarts. Move blowtorch flame evenly back and forth just above top of tart, avoiding crust, until sugar is caramelized and slightly browned (be careful not to burn sugar). (Can be made 8 hours ahead.) Let stand at room temperature.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.