Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Pear-chocolate tart

It’s not all wine and dessert at my work, much as we may try. We do have a healthful regime, in the shape of a weekly fruit delivery from the people at CERES. Sadly, the end of every week finds the furry brown bosc pears unloved and unchosen, softening in the corners of the plastic tub, inexorably passed over for the peaches.

I know how they feel. I relate to those pears. I remember what it was like at school whenever competitive sports teams involving balls and other such horrors were chosen. I didn’t even want to be in a stupid team, any more than a pear wants to be quartered and eaten, but being last-picked every time, and then only grudgingly and because the teacher insisted … well, it rankled. I’m not bitter though.  

Anyway, so I took the rejected, humiliated, demoralised pears home, and brought about their meeting with dark chocolate and pastry, and, well, it was like they’d cast off their spectacles and found Clearasil. Judging by the state of the plate not long after they were returned to the kitchen at work, they’d have no trouble whatsoever getting a deb ball partner in Year 12. But before this analogy runs any further off the rails, let me consolidate here the many online sources I consulted.

Gluten-free crust adapted very loosely from Gluten-free Girl and others
1 cup rice flour
½ cup potato flour
¾ cup cornflour
3 teaspoons icing sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
120g unsalted butter, fridge-cold
1 egg
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼ cup water once 1 iceblock is in it (does that make sense?)

You’re supposed to use a pastry cutter or fork to work the butter into all the dry ingredients that precede it, but the thought of going anywhere near all that squeakily super-fine substance makes me come over all funny-like and goosebumpy. So I let the KitchenAid take care of that with its dough hook, but it didn’t really take care of it and I had to unhitch the bowl and get into all that dustiness with a fork after all. Awful, it was. I’m still washing my hands a day later like Lady Macbeth.

Once it had started crumbling a bit I returned it to the KA, adding the egg and vinegar. After a few-scrapings-down of the bowl it had started to form the desired crumbliness, and tentative additions of ice-water soon produced a ball of dough. It was flattened between two sheets of baking paper and went into the fridge to chill and relax.

Most recipes seemed to go for halving the pears so that they could form a ring of turtle-like humps, but I felt this to be too much pear at once for my pear-shy colleagues, and quartered them so they could be arranged in more of an overlapping fan. Some bits had gone a little far in the ripening and had to be cut back, which meant a not-very-uniform array. Then they were poached for about 15 minutes in a litre of water with 250g raw sugar and a split vanilla bean, and left to cool in the syrup.

Back to the chilled pastry, which was rolled out between the sheets of baking paper. As is its wont, the paper started to crease up under the expanding dough after a while and I peeled one sheet off to apply the rolling pin directly to the dough, but that was to take a wrong turn, let me tell you. It was a very delicate and not at all flexible pastry – the edges started to crack and break off with very little provocation. When I’d lost patience – after about a minute – and once it was only about 4mm thick, I pressed it into a greased loose-based tart tin, sticking back the broken-off bits around the sides. Back to the fridge to rest for about half an hour, then blind-baked in a 180 C oven for about 20 minutes, then another 5 or so without the split peas to dry and firm it up a bit more. It didn’t shrink at all – I guess because it lacked the gluten.

Filling (mostly lifted from Jamie Oliver. If you go there, don’t look at the comments. Although I suppose it’s nice that Young People Today are looking at recipe sites instead of having food fights in the Home Ec room…):*

125g ground almonds, scattered over a tray and toasted in the oven until golden
2 eggs
125g butter, softened
95g caster sugar
185g dark chocolate, zapped in 20-second bursts in the microwave and stirred until just melted

Mix everything together and pour into the pastry case, then arrange the drained pears in a ring on top and into the oven at 170 C.

Jamie’s 170 C and my 170 C are clearly very different things – doubtless our ovens are barely related ­– as hardly anything was happening after the recommended 45 minutes and its central regions were still sticking damply to the skewer after an hour and a half, although I think it overcooked closer to the edges.

I failed to provide the suggested crème fraîche or indeed anything at all, though it would have been nice with. 

*That’s not an emoticon, thank you very much. It’s the correct way to close a parenthesis before a colon.

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