It's official. The winter is here. And yet, somehow I feel like I've been saying this since weeks ago. But then again, weeks ago I didn't have to get the "autumn" coat out, neither did I think for a second that I would feel like turning the heating on already (when last year I only turned it on in November!). So yes, something's definitely going on right now. You can call it Autumn, but I'll call it Winter.
For someone who comes from a country with two seasons (Summer=hot hot hot and Winter= mildly cold + snow once every 10 years) living in a place where there is such a strong distinction between summer, autumn, winter and spring is refreshing to say the least. Never had I seen autumn leaf colours in Greece (there's it's one day here, tomorrow on the floor, no in-between stage!) and never had I realised that there are things that just "go" with autumn.
Like this pear frangipane tart. I discovered this a year ago, and it's become one of my favourite feel-good desserts to make when I'm down, or when it's cold outside (which is usually one and the same!). The fact that you serve it warm makes it even more appropriate, nothing better to warm you up inside than something warm that...goes inside your mouth! It's also become one of my boyfriend's favourite desserts, so I get a lot of special requests. Yes, it takes a while to make, but oh...how much it's worth it!
Pear and chocolate frangipane tart
Source: Valentine Warner in Olive magazine (November 2009)
For the pastry
- 250g plain flour
- 150g butter, fridge cold and cut into small cubes
- 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
For the filling
- 3 firm conference pears
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
- 50g good quality milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces
- 175g softened butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 125g ground almonds
- 75g plain flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 15g flaked almonds
To make the pastry put the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and blend until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the eggs, blend again and turn off when the dough forms a ball. Roll out the pastry between two big sheets of cling film so it doesn't stick (I learnt this trick from Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, and although I can't stand the guy and his cockiness, at least I got something useful out of the show!).
Line a deep fluted 25cm tart tin with the pastry, by carefully peeling one sheet of cling film and gently lowering the pastry into the tin (or the other way around, putting the tin upside down on the pastry and carefully turning the whole thing around, so that the dough falls into the tin). Place on a baking tray, prick the base with a fork and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the pastry case with crumpled baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake like this for 22 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is dry. Remove from the oven and leave aside to cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C. Peel and cut the pears into quarters. Remove the cores and put the pear quarters into a bowl with the lemon juice, tossing them so they are all covered, so they won't turn brown.
In a mixer blend the butter and sugar until pale and soft. Add the ground almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, eggs and vanilla. Blend well, take the mixer out and stir in the chocolate pieces with a spatula.
Spread the almond mixture evenly over the cooled pastry case, arrange the pear quarters on their sides in a circle around the tart, pressing gently into the almond mix, narrow ends towards the centre.
Bake on the tray in the centre of the oven or 30 minutes. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over and return to the oven for a further 35-40 minutes, or until the pears are tender and the frangipane filling is well-risen and golden brown. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before lifting from the tin. I love this served warm, if you have leftovers you can reheat it in the microwave later on, and serve with some good quality vanilla ice-cream, it's delicious when the chocolate bits are gooey and melt in your mouth.