Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Small Tarts Have Big Hearts: Bartlett Tartlettes

I didn't acquire my first cook-book until shortly after I started law school. I have my mother to thank for that - despite having a varied and tasty repertoire, she always cooks from her own imagination (um, thanks for not passing that very useful talent along, mom... but I love you anyway). In college, the dorms either didn't have kitchens at all (we all have very fond memories of making pasta on a little heating pad in our rooms) or had the sort of kitchens the ovens of which burned even chocolate chip cookies. So you can say that I didn't begin my love affair with cooking until I was living in my own apartment and well embroiled in the intricacies of torts and the rule against perpetuities (*shudder*). Coincidentally (or not), I met my husband -- then boyfriend -- at around the same time, so perhaps the two (cooking and having someone to cook for) went hand in hand.

But back to my first cookbook. I remember picking it up, gently and hesitantly, in the bargain books section of Barnes and Noble. The title was simply "Baking," by Carole Clements. The book attracted me by being large, full of detailed instructions and color photographs, and by having recipes that used a basic, familiar list of ingredients (my rule back then was, if I can't pronounce it, I'm not going to cook it... ahh, how times have changed). The very first recipe I tried to make was the Peach Tart with Almond Cream. My friend and I got together one Saturday morning, put on our aprons and got ready to bake... only to discover that we didn't have: peaches, almonds, enough butter, a food processor (to grind the almonds), a rolling pin or a tart pan. Our first adventure in baking was getting off to a rocky and unpromising start. Needless to say, that particular tart didn't turn out so well. But, as they say, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

By a natural progression, when my recipe book became too stuffed with pieces of paper and tiny hand-written notes and butter crumbs, I started this blog. And yet, that first cook-book, like a first boyfriend, has kept a spot in my heart and on my bookshelf. Which is why, when I heard of the Small Tarts Have Big Hearts event hosted by two lovely ladies (and with a name like that, we here at Confessions of a Tart just had to participate!), I decided to finally do justice to that poor peach tart. However, fate has had the last laugh. I was walking past the anemic peaches in the fruit aisle when the faint delicate perfume of Bartlett pears enveloped me. It was decided -- the peach tart will have to wait until summer, and the Bartlett Tartlette was born!

Bartlett Tartlette
(adapted from "Baking" by Carole Clements)
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 - 3 tbsp ice water
For the frangipane:
2-3 Bartlett pears
2/3 cup blanched almonds
2 tbsp flour
7 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the pear syrup (optional):
pear skins
1/2 cup sugar

1. For the crust, sift flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter into it with a pastry cutter (I bought one of these recently and it changed my life, seriously) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs and chunks of butter are no bigger than a pea. With a fork, stir in the egg yolk and just enough water to blend the dough. Gather into a ball, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cut in half, skin and core the pears. If making the pear syrup, put the pear skins and cores in a small pot, pour water in until the whole thing is just covered, add 1/2 cup of sugar, bring to a boil and stir, and then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25-30 min to reduce to a thicker consistency. Strain and toss the pear skins/cores (or eat the skins, like I did - waste not, want not, right?). Put the pear halves in iced water so they don't brown.

3. While the syrup is doing whatever mysterious little thing it does, take out the dough and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to whatever size tart pan (or tartlet pans) you are using. Butter the tart pan(s) and transfer the dough to it. Trim the edges, prick the bottom and refrigerate.

3. In a food processor, grind the almonds finely with the flour. Cream the butter and 1/2 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually, beat in the egg and yolk. Stir in the almonds and vanilla.

4. Preheat the oven to 400F. Spread the frangipane in the pastry shell. Slice the pears thinly and arrange on top of the tart, fanning out the slices of each pear.

5. Bake until the pastry begins to brown, 10-15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350F and continue baking until frangipane sets, about 15-20 minutes more. Ten minutes before the end of cooking time, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar (total for either one big tart or all of your small tartlets). If you made the pear syrup, pour some over the tart(s) once you take them out of the oven.


tarynl said...

Irene, I love Bartlett Pears. You've inspired me to give this a try.

Irene said...

I'm so glad! They turned out really delicious. I almost didn't get to taste any because my family, drawn by the smell, devoured them practically as soon as I took them out of the oven.

Ann said...

This looks wonderful! Thanks for participating in The Revolution!