People are always handing me recipes to try. Students in my cooking classes bring their all-time favorites, friends give me directions for secret family dishes, while my assistants sometimes offer up their own specialties.
A helper who has worked side by side with me for the past few months shared the directions for today’s scrumptious pear pecan tart. For years, she has baked this special dessert, created by French cooking teacher Monique Hanson from Connecticut, and she couldn’t wait for me to sample it.
As fall arrived in New England this month, with cool temperatures and a bountiful harvest of autumn fruits, I knew it was time to try this recipe.
The golden buttery crust was decadently rich with the taste of toasted pecans, and the filling a sublime combination of sliced pears topped with a simple custard of cream, ground pecans and sugar all bound with an egg.
When baked, the tart was sprinkled with extra sugar, then popped under the broiler a few minutes until the grains browned.
Now I know why my assistant was so enthusiastic about Monique’s confection. I brought it to a potluck recently and watched everyone sigh as they bit into their slices. Then I baked the tart again and served it for lunch to a good friend, who is a professional baker. She requested the recipe and went home with an extra slice. Even my 3-year-old grandson loved it.
I am planning to serve this dessert as the finale for an upcoming dinner party. The tart, I’ve discovered, is ideal for entertaining since it can be baked several hours ahead and needs no last-minute fuss.
You can serve each slice unadorned or forget about calories and add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. I adapted the original recipe slightly to fit a 9-inch rather than a 10½-inch tart pan, but made no other changes. No sense fixing a recipe that has withstood the test of many discerning palates.
Monique Hanson’s pear pecan tart
1½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup toasted pecans, ground (see note)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, well chilled and diced
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice water, optional
3 ripe (but not too soft) pears such as Bartletts
1 large egg
½ cup heavy or whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling over cooked tart
½ cup ground toasted pecans (see note)
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for garnish, optional (see note)
For crust, combine flour, pecans, butter, sugar, salt and egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is crumbly but holds together when pinched with your fingers. If dough is too dry, add 1 tablespoon water and pulse mixture a few seconds more.
On a clean work surface, smear the dough with the palm of your hand a few times to blend together the butter and dry ingredients. Press dough evenly into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, patting it onto the bottom and up the sides about 1/4 inch above the rim. Freeze the tart shell for 30 minutes.
Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake crust until just golden, piercing the bottom with a fork if crust bubbles up, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes, but retain oven temperature.
For filling, peel and stem pears, then halve lengthwise and core. Cut each half, lengthwise, into 6 slices. Arrange slices in a circular pattern in the tart shell.
In the center, overlap slices in a straight line. (You may have some slices left over.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg and cream, then whisk in 2 teaspoons sugar and ground pecans. Pour mixture over pears and into any empty spaces in the shell. Bake until filling is set and pears are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove and sprinkle remaining sugar over tart.
Turn on broiler and arrange an oven rack 5 inches or more from it. When hot, place tart under broiler until sugar has browned, only a few minutes. Watch carefully.
Serve pie at room temperature or slightly warm. (Tart can be baked 6 hours ahead; leave at room temperature, uncovered.) If desired, garnish each serving with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: To toast pecans, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully. Cool, then grind in a food processor.
If serving tart slices with whipped cream, you can sprinkle cream with some ground nutmeg or cinnamon if you like.
Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).
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