Years ago, when I was beginning my career as a food writer and teacher, I loved to prepare Julia Child’s baked pear gratin with a macaroon crust from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I. The recipe was simplicity itself. Pears were sliced, placed in a baking dish, tossed with apricot jam and white wine, and then baked with a topping of crushed cookies and bits of butter.
Last week, as I was contemplating different fillings for an autumn tart, I remembered that dish and knew that those pears would be delectable baked in a pastry crust. I added seasonings of cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cloves to the fruit, and to keep things really easy, used purchased puff pastry for the tart shell. When done, this dessert boasts a golden, flakey crust and a filling of tender, juicy pears infused with aromatic spices.
Serve the tart warm, and if you want to gild the lily, garnish each slice with a scoop of ice cream or some cream whipped with honey.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, about 9 inches square and 1/8 inch thick, defrosted in the refrigerator
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds ripe (but not too soft) Bosc pears (about 3 large pears)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons apricot preserves or jam
2 tablespoons white wine
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pint best quality vanilla ice cream, optional
6 mint sprigs, optional
1.Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Have ready a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
2. lace the pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface, and with a rolling pin, gently flatten any seams in the dough, then roll dough into an 11- inch square. Transfer it to the tart pan. Trim the overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhanging dough in and press to form double-thick sides. Press inside edge of crust to push it 1/4 inch above the pan. Pierce bottom of crust with a fork. Place the tart shell in the freezer for 15 minutes.
3. Halve pears lengthwise, but do not peel. Core and cut lengthwise into 1/2- inch thick slices. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, apricot preserves, wine, and cornstarch until well combined.
4. Heat the butter in a medium-large skillet set over medium heat. When melted and hot, add the pears and toss to coat well in the butter, about 2 minutes. (If pears are under ripe, toss and stir until slightly softened when pierced with a sharp knife, 6 to 9 minutes or more.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the spice/apricot preserve mixture, tossing to make certain pears are coated well.
5. When cool enough to handle, arrange the pear slices in overlapping concentric circles in the tart shell. Spoon any remaining spice mixture in the skillet over the pears.
6. Place tart on a baking sheet and bake until crust is golden and pears are glistening and very tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool in the pan 15 to 20 minutes. (The tart can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cool and leave uncovered at room temperature. Reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven until hot, 15 to 20 minutes.)
7. To serve, loosen the tart from the pan with a small sharp knife and then remove sides. Cut into 6 slices and serve warm. If desired, garnish each serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a mint sprig. Serves 6.
Note: A 17.3-ounce package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry contain two 9-inch square sheets. You'll need one for this recipe.