Pears achieve perfection — slowly. Blossom, bud, then bead that matures into fragrant fruit the moment it’s swiped by a squirrel. In 10 years of tending pear trees, I’ve yet to nab a pear.
Driving me to drink. Poire Williams — presumably invented by William, mad with swiped-pear frustration — is a clear brandy often bottled along with a whole pear. Once I thought of the packaging as pear prison. Now I see it as safe house.
Spring, I slipped the buds down the narrow necks of bottles. Summer, I watched the fruit swell. Fall, I cut down the bottles and topped them off with brandy. Now my pears are beautiful, ripe and unassailable.
Which is to say I’ve still never tasted one.
Prep: 50 minutes
Bake: 40 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
This recipe is unassailable. Great for Thanksgiving or any fall celebration.
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 lbs. (7 or 8) firm, ripe pears, preferably Bosc or Anjou, peeled, quartered, cored
1/2 cup sugar
Pie pastry (recipe follows)
Whipped cream or creme fraiche (or both whipped together)
1. Caramelize: Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Stir in the pears and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Increase the heat a little, and cook until the pears and sugar turn a deep, caramel brown, about 15 minutes. (Resist the temptation to quit early.) Shake the pan occasionally, making sure pears and sugar do not burn.
2. Fill: Pile the pears into a 10-inch Pyrex pie plate.
3. Cover: Roll out the pastry and trim to a 12-inch circle. Cover the pears with the pastry, tucking it around the edges and down into the dish.
4. Bake: Slide tart onto the center rack of a 425-degree oven. Bake until the pears bubble and the pastry turns a deep, golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
5. Flip: Pull tart out of the oven and set a flat serving platter top-side down on top of the pie plate. Pull on mitts. Holding plate and platter together, invert the pair. Rap the pie plate with a wooden spoon to release any stubborn pears. Lift pie plate, leaving tart sitting pretty.
6. Serve: Enjoy warm or at room temperature, with the cream.
Pie pastry: Measure into the food processor 1 cup flour, 7 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut up) and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Process to coarse crumbs, about 10 seconds. Measure in 3 tablespoons ice-cold water. Pulse about 6 times until clumps are damp. Pat pastry into a disk. If sticky, dust with a little additional flour. Wrap in waxed paper, and chill at least 1 hour.
Provenance: Adapted (precious little) from Patricia Wells’ indispensable “Bistro Cooking.”