Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Blustery Day

We had the maple tree cabled just in time. For the second weekend in a row, we had rain and strong gusty winds, with a power outage lasting several hours. All over town there's evidence of downed limbs and trees, but our beloved maple is still intact.

Today's outage on our street was caused by an old maple tree on the next street over. The tree lost a big limb, which came down atop the power lines and knocked down a pole. I was in the middle of making a caramelized pear tart. I had finished cooking the pear filling, but had yet to make the crust, and then bake the tart. I was making it to take to dinner with our friends Karen and Bill.

My gas range still performs fine without electricity, but the oven has an electronic temperature control and ignition, so no baking without electricity. With the power out, I left the tart to cool and internally rubbed my hands gleefully in the realization I might as well read, as the vacuum cleaner was not working either. I puttered about and never did settle in to read before the power came back on, a few minutes after 4 o'clock. I was able to make a crust and bake the tart, which came out of the oven just 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for Karen's house.

We made a quick stop on the way to buy some lottery tickets for them; we were already lucky to be invited to dinner, where Karen was making her famous pressed sandwiches, so we decided we should pass on the luck.

The sandwiches were, as always, fabulous (ham and bacon with honey mustard, red onion, portabello mushrooms, muenster and avocado spread, wow), and we enjoyed a good evening of cards and laughter as the wind howled and the rain drummed on the roof.


This fabulous dessert makes the end of summer and the arrival of pear season more bearable. It is easy, delicious and looks exceptionally glamorous.

4 large firm-ripe Bosc pears (2 lb total) *
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pastry dough

Peel and halve pears, then core (a spoon or melon baller works well for this). Heat butter in a 9- to 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet with wide parts at rim of skillet. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and cook, undisturbed, until sugar turns a deep golden caramel. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on pears, skillets, and stove.) Cool pears completely in skillet. (This part can be done early in the day.)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and trim to a 9 1/2- to 10 1/2-inch round. Arrange pastry over caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears inside rim of skillet. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on rack 5 minutes.

Invert a rimmed serving plate (slightly larger than skillet) over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto plate. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

*You can also substitute with tart apples, such as Pippins or Granny Smiths
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
11 medium-size Pippin apples (about 4 3/4 pounds), peeled, quartered, cored
Place the apples on their sides, as close together as possible. Follow the directions for the pear dish.


Butter really does make the best pie crusts. The secret is keeping the dough cold and working it as little as possible.

Makes one 8” – 10” double crust pie.

2 1/2 c flour
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1 c (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, grated
1/4 – 1/2 c ice water (fill a cup with water & add a few ice cubes; the colder the water the better)

Grate butter into food processor bowl. Add flour, sugar, and salt; blend in processor, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms. 1/4 c water. Using on/off turns, blend just until moist clumps form, adding more water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; divide in half and flatten into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour. If you can, chill the piecrust after rolling out and before baking.


Anonymous said...

boy oh boy do I want one of these tarts. . . .time to go to the orchard and get fruit. . .


Anonymous said...

This tart sounds fabulous. I've been in your butter-dough camp, but recently I went to a local cooking class on pies, and we did a taste test of doughs made with Crisco, Crisco and butter, butter, and butter and cream cheese ... and I was shocked that the Crisco and butter combo was flakier than just butter, and quite delicious. Butter-only tasted perhaps a tad better, but the addition of Crisco made for a flakier, tender crust. (Crisco-only was gross. Yuck. Not worth the effort.) The butter in the combo dough canceled out the transfat taste, somehow. So I'm torn, except that I hate the thought of actually purchasing Crisco.

Ali said...

Ooh, the class sounds fun and interesting. I'm with you on the all-Crisco crust, but you've got me wondering about the combo Crisco-butter crust. What were the proportions?

I just read a recipe for a buttermilk pie crust which I'm going to try, I wonder if that will make a difference.


weezer said...

Hi, I'm interested in the buttermilk recipe!!
I know someone who used the Crisco/butter in chocolate chip cookies & they were wonderful, Although I haven't bake with it myself; if I did, I'd eat too many.

Hollive said...

When I was making pies more regularly, I used half butter half Crisco in the crust--I thought it was the best of both worlds. Dave uses all butter is his crust, and his is good but I like mine better. Now, though I usually use unsalted organic butter, preferably cultured organic butter. (I'm avoiding transfats.) The cultured butter seems to be flakier and puffier, and makes great cookies, too.

A toast to the butter holidays!