French Pear and Almond Tart

serves 6-8

For the Sweet Tart Dough

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup finely ground almonds

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

9 Tablespoons (4 1/2-ounces) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 extra large egg yolk

For the Pears

3 cups white wine, I use Sauvignon Blanc

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3 large strips of zest

1 3-inch cinnamon stick

8 whole black peppercorns

2 whole cloves

pinch of kosher salt

1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

3 ripe, but firm pears (about 8-ounces each), like Bartlett or Bosc

For the Almond Cream

6 Tablespoons (3-ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup ground blanched almonds

2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 extra large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, almonds, and salt to combine.  Scatter the pieces of butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in, about the size of oatmeal flakes. Stir the yolk and add a little at a a time while pulsing the mixture.  Process in long pulses, about 10 seconds each until the dough forms clumps and curds.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead the dough lightly to incorporate any remaining dry ingredients.  (Dough can be made and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.  Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but a little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch up any cracks after the crust is baked.  Place the crust on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 45 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º F.  Butter the shiny side of a sheet of aluminum foil and fit the foil buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since the crust was frozen, it can be baked without pie weights.)  Bake the crust for 25 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil. If the crust had puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Patch the crust if necessary, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Pears

In a large saucepan, combien the sine sugar, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, and salt.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add both to the saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, halve, core and peel the pears.  Slide the pears into the simmering water; increase the heat to high and return to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered; until the pears are tender and can easily be pierced with a toothpick or skewer and the outer edges of the pears have turned translucent, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow the pears to cool in the liquid until cool enough to handle, about 1 hour.  (Pears and liquid can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

For the Almond Cream

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the butter and sugar until smooth and satiny.  Add the ground almonds and process until well blended.  Add the flour and cornstarch and process to blend.  Add the egg and process for 15 seconds more, or until the mixture is smooth and homogenous.  Blend in the vanilla.  Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.  (The cream can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months; defrost before using.)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.  Fill the cooled crust with the almond cream, spreading evenly with an offset spatula.  Remove the pears from the liquid and pat dry with paper towels.  Place a pear halve on a large flat plastic spatula (not one you would use for folding and scraping) and thinly slice the pear crosswise.  Using the spatula, transfer the sliced pear to the tart (wide end toward the edge of the crust) and press down on the pear to fan it slightly over the almond cream.  Repeat with the remaining pears.  Transfer the tart to the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns.  Transfer the tart to a rack to cool.  Serve while slightly warm or at room temperature.  Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners' sugar.  Enjoy!

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