Baking For Others: Bringing Dessert
EVENT: Dinner at Alex’s Family Friends’
DISH: Pear-Almond Tart
PARTY SIZE: 5
Now that the word is out that I’m a blogger and a baker, I feel completely obligated to offer to bring sweets wherever I go. When you’re mainly a savory cook, the obligation is slightly different: though you may be asked to cater or come over early with appetizers, no one expects you to carry around a pot of stew to, say, an afternoon meeting. But with sweets everyone does. Or maybe I’m just far too sensitive to the cues of this hungry world.
Still, it is very much a pleasure for me. I love to bake, but as I found out when I went through a bout of insomnia-induced midnight baking last spring, it’s easier to bake than to eat all of the baked goods that result. It may be straightforward enough to make eggs for one, but it takes more skill and much too much energy to measure out ingredients for a single cookie or cupcake. That’s why sharing is built into baking and why our blog’s baking category is called Baking For Others. After all, it’s the only way to do it.
One of the things I like so much about baking (and all cooking, as long as we’re at it) is the process of deducing the right dish for a given occasion. Especially with desserts, one pie or cake may in fact be the compilation of many component factors, from syrups to fillings to crusts. So each element must be conceived of and tweaked on its own, and composing one dessert becomes a bit like menu-planning for an entire meal. Keep in mind that this is fun to me.
That’s how this tart was developed–piecemeal. I was invited to dinner and then invited to bring dessert. Among a dietary restriction, pears being in season, almonds being delicious, and me having several people to see and subways to take after leaving my house but before heading to dinner, I knew I needed something dairy-free, fruity, nutty, and sturdy, and this is what I came up with. I was pretty happy, though I must admit I do think my butterless crust could use some work. If anyone has any suggestions…
From my kitchen, where I often carry a pie in my purse, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
I made the tart crust dairy-free, but you can use your favorite sweet crust for the filling. If you’re not worried about dairy, I’d also omit the oil from the filling and add a tablespoon or two of butter to the food processor after you grind the almonds.
For the crust:
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vodka
½ cup minus 1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apricot jam
For the filling and the fruit:
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
¾ cup slivered almonds
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons oil
2 pears, seeds removed, cut lengthwise into thin slices
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
To make the crust:
Pulse the almonds with ¼ cup of flour until ground. Add the rest of the flour, the sugar, and the salt, and pulse to combine.
Whisk together the vodka and the oil. Pour into the processor and process until the dough forms a ball. Press it together and into a 6” disk. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll out the dough into a large circle. Carefully transfer to a pie pan with removable bottom, patching up any tears that may have been caused by moving. You can also just press this dough into the pie pan—it is quite soft.
Blind bake the tart covered by foil and weighted by beans or pie weights for 10-12 minutes, until it is just starting to firm up. Thinly brush the apricot jam across the bottom, then fill as below.
Pulse the almonds with ½ cup of sugar in the food processor until finely ground. Add the salt, vanilla, and oil, and pulse to mix. Crack in the egg and mix until the filling is liquid, thick, and smooth.
Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with the orange juice and cornstarch and whisk to blend. Toss the pear slices with this mixture.
When the tart shell is out of the oven, spread the almond filling evenly across it. Starting at the outside, arrange the pears in concentric circles, overlapping the slices. Use any extra to fill in the gaps—the pears will shrink during baking.
Bake the tart for about 45 minutes, until the pears are slightly brown and the filling is set. If it looks like the fruit and the crust are browning too quickly, cover the tart with a piece of foil for part of the baking time.
Cool to room temperature and serve, with ice cream if desired.