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  • Pear and Frangipane Tart (i.e. Karen's Pear and Almond Tart)

    Fall is in the air. Everywhere you look around. Lips are starting to chap at a faster rate, and convniently you cannot find your good chapstick. However, conveniently, your co-worker brought in pears and you were day dreaming about your aunt's pear tart nearly moments earlier.

    So here we are. Pears, pumpkins, it-shall-not-be-named-spice-lattes, chilly winds, chapped lips. 

    Never a better moment for a tart-because really, I think pies and gallettes and quick breads get all the love in the early moments of fall. Tarts are, for me, a little more fuss-but that is exactly why I love this recipe: minimal fuss, but high reward. Yes, it even looks a little ordinary, but if you want an attractive spiral of pear slices showing after baking, fill it a little less with the frangipane. (if you need to know what frangipane is, see here!)

    Rest assured, the pastry for this tart is a press-in style, and if you get down to it, you don't really need to chill the pastry after it has been nudged into the pan (but it does help keep shape, if you're keeeping track). 

    Pears, since they can go a little mushy when ripe, can be firm. They will soften as the tart bakes, and not turn to complete mush. And, a firmer pear is easier to peel (but you can skip peeling, if you just can't muster it-I know!). I'd venture to guess that apples would work as well here. Replace almonds with walnuts....heck, even pistachios or hazelnuts. Used skinned or fully clothed (i.e. with skin on) nuts, or peeled, the latter resulting in a deeper beige-brown tart. Play with the spices: my aunt's signature is a perfectly balanced hit of cardamom. I usually have a heavy hand with the nutmeg, and throw in ground dried ginger.The little tweaks are endless; my aunt was telling me a few weeks back of her newest rendition of the crust: adding some almond meal! My next idea: a few tablespoons of cormean, paired with apples and perhaps a few fresh cranberries for celebrating autumn.Whatever you do, do make this tart and make it yours...and enjoy it, cozied up on a cool fall morning with a hot cup of tea or coffee, or even after a warming evening meal...make it a more decadent treat with a swoosh of unsweetend whipped cream, or a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream. You can't go wrong!



    Karen's Pear and Almond Tart (Pear and Frangipane Tart) // makes 1, 9" to 10" tart //

    Crust:

    • 1 1/3 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/8 tsp (a pinch!) fine sea salt
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
    • 2 large egg yolks (reserve the whites)

    Filling:

    • 3-4 semi-firm pears
    • 3/4 cup almonds, toasted and ground medium fine (or, almond flour; really any nut flour or ground nut would work)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon*
    • 1/2 tsp cardamom*
    • 1/4 tsp ground dried ginger*
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperatures
    • 1 egg plus 2 egg whites from above
    • 3 tsp vanila extract and/or 1 TB bourbon or other liquer of choice (I use bourbon steeped with vanilla beans)
    • optional: 1 tsp almond extract
    • 1 TB flour

    *any spices you'd like!

    1. Make the crust & blind bake: preheat oven to 300. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter and salt; with a fork or a pastry blender, blend in the butter with the flour until cornmeal-like consistency, with a few larger chunks the size of peas. Press into a 9-10" tart pan in an even layer. Bake, using pie weights, beans or sugar (my favorite weight!) in parchment or aluminum foil, for 20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Bake for another 10-15 minutes with the pie weights taken out, to brown and firm the bottom. Once done, allow to cool slightly. After you take the tart shell out of the oven, increase the temperature to 350F. 

    2. While the crust bakes, peel, core (I like to use a teaspoon), and slice the pears into 1/4" to 1/8" slices. Set in a bowl of lemon water to keep from browning.

    3. Make the filling by combining butter, sugar, spices and extracts, beating until fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add in the eggs and combine, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Finally, mix in the flour.

    4. Assemble the tart: arrange the pear slices in a decorative layer in the tart shell, or go for the more rustic route if you wish. Pour the frangipane of the arranged fruit, filling a little less if you want your design to show, and a little more if you don't mind flooding the fruit.

    5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the frangipane is golden and aromatic. Cool completely before taking the tart from the ring, using a paring knife to help loosen any stubborn areas where the tart shell sticks to the ring. Worst case: cut slices from the tart ring! Serve alone, or with lightly whipped unsweetned cream, or your favorite vanilla ice cream. Tart keeps for 1 week in the fridge. 



    Enjoy! 

  • Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba Chocolate Cake)

    With a name like that, it must be good. Because it is. Julia (Child) proclaims it will be the *best* chocolate cake you've ever made and/or eaten (hopefully both, because it is so satisfying to make).Nutty almonds turned into pulverized-yet-still-coarse-flour, whipped egg whites, creamed butter, sugar and eggs...and rum (or brandy...). Melted butter meets more chocolate and more rum...skinned almonds adorn the top to remind you what awaits inside.Yes, it does take a touch of time, but by the time you reach slathering the rich chocolate disc in buttery chocolate icing (not really an icing at all, more like a butter ganache) and dotting the top of the whole works with toasted skinned almonds, you cannot wait to dig in.Aside of wanting to steer closer to my cookbooks and away from internet recipes lately (mostly because I love my cookbooks and they need some love), it feels good to try new things and experiment. But rest assured, this cake will become a favorite. 

    I could see it with grated lemon or orange zest in the winter; use hazelnuts instead of almonds; adorn the top with cherries or raspberries or blackberries; add a hint of peppermint for a refreshing zing. Change up the booze or add all vanilla (I opted for bourbon steeped with vanilla beans). Make this for you, call it self love. Make it for a friend, co-workers, a stellar significant other (for putting up with your angsty antics). Just make it and enjoy the nutty-chocolatey wafts of amazing-ness you are greeted with each time you cut a slice for yourself. Completely un-adorned, this cake would maybe be enhanced with a dollop of whipped cream for a contrast of color and flavor, but honestly, plain is how I prefer it (but who said no to a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate cake?). I may even like it better in the morning, with a fresh set of taste buds, along with my morning coffee. I'll let you judget when and how you like this cake best.So, with really no changes to Julia' recipe (found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, page 677), the Queen of Sheba lives on...Notes: you could most definitely make the cake ahead of time. Tightly wrap and refrigerate for a day or freeze for a month or so, and bring to room temp before slathering with chocolate icing and decorating with almonds. As mentioned, you can use almond flour in place of pulverizing almonds at home in a blender or food processor. 



    The Cake:

    • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (anything 60-70%)
    • 2 TB rum, bourbon or coffee
    • 1 stick softened unsweetened butter
    • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 3 egg yolks
    • 3 egg whites
    • pinch of salt
    • 1 TB granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup pulverized almonds (almond flour, or make by blending 1/2 cup skinned or skin-on almonds with 1 TB sugar in a blender or food processor until cornmeal texture)
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract (I omitted)
    • 1/2 cup cake flour, scooped and leveled (I used AP flour with no issues)

    Chocolate Icing:

    • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
    • 2 TB rum, bourbon or coffee
    • 5-6 TB unsalted butter (ideally soft)

    To decorate: a handful of either skinned toasted almonds (make sure they are fresh, and not rancid), or raw almonds to skin and freshly toast at home (see below for my how-to).

    1. Butter and flour an 8 inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

    2. Melt chocolate and rum together: use a double boiler or gently use the microwave, stirring in the rum after the chocolate is melted. You want it luke-warm. Measure the flour, using the scoop-and-sweep method to preven overly compacting the flour in the measuring cup. 

    3. Cream butter and sugar together for several minutes until fluffy and pale. Add in the egg yolks until well blended.

    4. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks, adding 1 TB of the sugar and a pinch of salt once soft peaks are formed.

    5. Mix the melted chocolate and rum with the butter-sugar-yolk mixture. Stir in the pulverized almonds and extract (or rum or bourbon or vanilla). Gently mix in 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to lighten the mixture. Follow with 1/3 of the flour, folding gently, following with 1/3 of the egg whites. Repeat until the flour and egg whites are used, using a gentle folding action.

    6. Gently turn into the prepared pan; gently coax up the rim of the pan, leveling the top. Bake for 20 minutes, checking for doneness in the 2 1/2 to 3 inches of circumference around the cake pan edges (a toothpick will come out clean here, but if stuck in the middle, will come out oily, according to Julia; this helps retain a moist, creamy consistency to the cake).

    7. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen around the edges with a thin knife or spatula. Reverse cake onto a cooling rack and cool compeletly.

    8. Prepare the icing by gently melting the chocolate, and beating in the butter 1 TB at a time, over medium heat or in a gently simmering water bath. 

    9. Ice the cake: to catch spills, cut 3 pieces of waxed paper or parchment, and make a triangle on the surface you plan to ice the cake on. Dollop a spoon of icing in the middle of the triangle (this helps prevent the cake from slipping when you remove the waxed paper strips). Set the cake in the middle of the triangle atop the dollop of icing "glue". Gently pour the icing over the cake. Allow it to cool for about 1 minute (this helps thicken in just enough so it doesn't run all over the sides too quickly). Then, gently coax it all around the cake, forming an even layer. Scoop up excess from the sides and coat the sides evenly if needed, working quickly while the icing is still warm. Allow the icing to cool for a minute or two before removing the waxed paper strips from the circumference of the cake.

    10. Dot with skinned, toasted almonds. Serve right away, or cover and serve when desired. We found that the cake kept beautifully in the fridge for 1 week, covered. Bring up to room temperature before serving, or eat cold (the chocolate flavors will be muted, but still delicious).

    How to skin and toast whole almonds: I have found that you can easily take the skin from raw, untoasted almonds by soaking in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, draining, and popping the skins off. Dry thoroughly, and toast the whole almonds in a 350F oven until fragrant and just starting to brown. Allow to cool before decorating cake.