As the beginning of Autumn sets in (my favorite time of year), locally grown pears of all varieties start showing up in supermarkets here in Chicago. As a kid, I wasn’t really keen on pears. To me they tasted too perfumed and had an odd, granular texture – apples were my hands-down preference. Pears grew on me as an adult, and when I learned how to poach them, I fell in love. I like the larger, yellow-green skinned Anjou pear, but this recipe works well for any variety. I like to purchase pears that have few bruises, are firm but yield slightly to gentle pressure, and that are fragrant. Also, for this recipe be mindful and choose pears of the same size and shape. This way, they all cook at about the same time.
For this recipe I poach the pears in red wine, however, you could poach pears in white wine, rosé wine, tea, or just about any liquid. Tea poached pears have a unique quality to them, especially if the tea you’re using is scented, like a Matcha, or an Earl Grey flavored with bergamot. Poaching offers several distinctions in flavor but mostly the texture of pears changes dramatically when poached. Pears can have a slightly gritty texture to them when fresh; when poached, they take on an almost gel-like consistency.
Don’t stop at adding poached pears to a tart – as I do here. They are great all by themselves with a bit of mascarpone cheese, or folded into your favorite quick bread recipe, diced and topped on muffins just before baking, or covered with chocolate ganache. I like them with cheese, prosciutto, and added to salads, or risotto. Experiment a bit, and you’ll see they’re pretty versatile.
Poaching is a simple process, really. You create a flavored liquid, then add what you want poached, then keep the mixture at a very low simmer until whatever you’re poaching is tender. This method works well for pears, but works equally well for apples, quince, eggs, chicken, salmon, etc. It’s knowing when to remove the poached item that’s the trick. In the case of this recipe for poached pears, you’re going to simmer them in a mixture of red wine, honey and spices just until a knife pierces them with almost no resistance – think a hot knife sliding into butter. Once the pears are cooked, I like to let them sit in their poaching liquid for at least overnight. I let them come to room temperature in their poaching liquid, then refrigerate until ready to use. I find they keep well in the refrigerator for up to a week.
The process for making this tart can be time consuming if you’re attempting to do it in one day. Do consider poaching the pears ahead of time.
Autumn isn’t just for pumpkins anymore. . .
1, 750ml bottle of red wine
2 cups water
½ cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
4 Anjou pears, about the same size and shape, peeled
Stir together the wine, water, honey, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and allspice in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat.
Add the pears, cover with parchment paper, and top the parchment paper with a small plate to keep the pears submerged in the poaching liquid.
Cook, at a slow simmer, until the pears are tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool completely in poaching liquid. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight.
One recipe of Perfect Pie Crust – see below (you’ll use ½ a recipe here, wrap the remaining half of pie dough in plastic film, then place in a freezer bag and freeze for another purpose)
Prepare pie crust and hold refrigerated until ready to use. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Pulse together the butter, sugar, egg, flour, almond flour, almond extract and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mini food processor until crumbly. Process on low speed until mixture is smooth to create the frangipane. Set aside.
Remove pears from the poaching liquid. Slice them in half lengthwise, remove stem, and using a melon-baller, remove the core and seeds. Slice pears into 1/8 inch slices. Set aside while you roll out the crust. (If you’d like to create a sauce from the poaching liquid, transfer the poaching liquid to a small saucepan and reduce over low heat until reduced by half its volume. Remove from the heat and serve at room temperature.)
Working quickly, roll out half the pie dough to a rough 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, folding the outer edges of the dough to the rim of the pan to create a crust that is thicker than the bottom of the tart.
Pour the frangipane into the bottom of the crust, spreading evenly. Fan the sliced pears directly on top of the frangipane pressing slightly.
Bake the tart until the crust is unevenly light golden brown and the frangipane has risen and browned around the pears, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Brush with melted apricot jam if desired before serving.