- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More than 3,000 pear varieties grow around the world, each with a distinctive character, texture, and flavor. The most popular are the yellow Bartlett, with a true pear shape, followed by the elegant, egg-shaped Anjou, the graceful Bosc, the pudgy Comice and the tiny Forelle.

Crisp, crunchy, and sweet, U.S.-grown pears are harvested from the middle of August through the end of November. They’re great for snacking, as an addition to a salad, partnered with a blue cheese or used in desserts.

Pear and almond pie is an elegant fruit tart made with almond cream known as frangipane. The filling can also be used to make a homespun pear and almond pie.

You can use refrigerated pie dough for this recipe and bake it in a 9-inch pie plate, or use homemade pate sucree for a 10-inch tart.

Pears poached in red wine or port are often served with Italian mascarpone, tangy creme fraiche or blue cheese. The sweeter method of poaching them in a spiced white wine described below is a pleasant alternative and goes nicely with lemon-curd whipped cream.

Pear and almond pie

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 refrigerated pie crust, such as pate sucre (recipe follows)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup finely ground almonds, plus more for sprinkling

2 teaspoons flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 firm-ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled, cored, halved and cut into 1/44-inch slices

Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling

To make the crust using refrigerated dough: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Let crust stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. Unroll and place in ungreased 9-inch pie pan. Press firmly against sides and bottom and prick with a fork. Pinch crust to create a fluted edge. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool before filling.

To make the filling: Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then beat in the almonds, flour, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Starting in the center, arrange the pear slices in concentric circles over the filling. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is puffed and browned and the pears are tender. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Sprinkle with remaining ground almonds and confectioners’ sugar before cutting into slices.

Pate sucree

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, beaten

Pinch of salt

1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

1/3 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained, for sealing the crust

Combine the flour, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse 8 to 10 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg mixture and pulse 2 to 3 times more. Add the water a half tablespoon at a time, and pulse to combine after each addition.

When the dough comes together, transfer it to a floured work surface, form it into a ball, and then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 10 minutes before rolling.

Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out the dough to a circle 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to the prepared pan, fold excess dough in, and press with your fingers to form thick sides. Prick the bottom of the tart shell with a fork in several places, cover with parchment paper, and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until the edge of the crust begins to turn golden. Remove the parchment and weights, and let the shell cool for about 5 minutes. Brush the inside of the shell with the apricot glaze to seal it, and then bake for 18 to 20 minutes more, or until the shell is lightly browned. Remove the crust from the oven and let cool while preparing the filling.

Poached pears in spiced honey wine

Makes 6 servings.

2 cups dry white wine

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 large piece orange peel

6 Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled

In a saucepan large enough to hold the pears, combine the wine, honey, sugar, lemon juice, cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel. Bring gently to a boil, and then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the pears, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the pears are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove from the heat, and let the pears cool in the syrup. Serve at room temperature or cold with lemon curd whipped cream.

To make lemon curd whipped cream: With an electric mixer, beat 1 pint of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of prepared lemon curd and whip for 1 minute more, or until blended.

The latest of Margaret M. Johnson’s five cookbooks is “Tea and Crumpets” (Chronicle Books).

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