Cook's Note: Choose ripe Anjou, slightly under ripe Comice, or very ripe Bosc pears for this tart. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.
1 recipe Rich Tart Dough (below)
1 pound pears
2 to 3 pinches of salt
3 to 4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey, to glaze (optional)
Rich Tart Dough
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cold
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Up to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
Rich Tart Dough
For 8 1/2 ounces dough, enough for one 9 1/2-inch tart shell
1. Place the flour, mixed with the sugar, if using, on a cool work surface or in a wide bowl.
2. Cut the stick of butter lengthwise into approximately 1/4-inch thick slices. Lay in the flour and flip over to coat each slice with flour. Press each of the dusty butter slices thin, pinching it between your thumbs and fingertips. The slices will break into dimpled, cupped sheets, some poker chip-size, some larger, with the balance in 1/4- to 1/2-inch shards. You won't have incorporated much of the flour.
3. Slide your fingers under the pile and lift and toss the sheets and chips of butter. Press them flat again, sandwiching a few chips together with each squeeze. Repeat; the chips will begin to turn into flakes. Continue until you have a combination of about one-third flakes—some as large as Corn Flakes, some more like rolled oats—and about two-thirds crumbs that look like moist, clumpy sawdust.
4. Work the dough with your fingertips until the whole mixture turns into crumbs and then quickly forms a mass. Shape the mass into a ball. Knead just long enough to produce a coherent shiny dough, then reshape into a ball. If you have added sugar, the dough will be a little sticky. Place between sheets of plastic wrap; press into a 1-inch thick disk, and then use a rolling pin to roll smooth. If the dough cracks on the edges, press back into a ball and knead a bit longer, then place between plastic and roll smooth again. Fold over the edges of the plastic to enclose, and refrigerate until just firm enough to roll out, or wrap tightly and freeze if you don't plan to use within a day or so.
Open- Faced Pear Tart
1. Roll out the crust, press it into a 9-1/2-inch false-bottomed tart pan, wrap and freeze until solid. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Peel, halve, and core the pears. Place cut-side down and slice evenly into 1/8-inch slivers. Cut from stem to flower end. Collect the butt ends and incomplete slices and taste one to check the sweetness.
3. Lay the ends and irregular slices flat at the center of the frozen shell. Starting at the edge of the pan, arrange the neater slices in any pattern that you like, as long as each sliver overlaps and nearly hides the one beneath. The result should be a layer of cantilevered fruit about three slices thick overall. It may be difficult to get sufficient overlap at the center of the tart, but the extra scraps of fruit will make up for that. Once you have carpeted the dough with pears, sprinkle the fruit very gingerly, but evenly, with salt. This will bring out the fruit flavor, and just as important, it will pull moisture to the surface to mix with the sugar and keep the firm fruit from turning leathery. Sprinkle with sugar evenly all over. If your fruit is quite sweet, use the minimum amount of sugar; if tarter, use the full amount.
4. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender and brown on the edges, 40 to 45 minutes. If the surface looks dry, you can brush with a simple glaze made by boiling the honey for a minute or so.
Guidelines for rolling out the dough:
Make sure the dough is just soft enough to roll without cracking. If not, leave at room temperature until it is pliable.
If you do freeze the dough ball, thaw it in the refrigerator, then "temper" as described above.
Roll the dough in all directions to a round just over 1/8-inch thick to fit your tart pan. (If you leave the original dough ball between the sheets of plastic wrap, you can gain the first few inches of diameter with no need for flour; then peel off the plastic to finish the process, or cut into smaller portions and roll out to fit your tartlet pans.) This dough will tear easily as it gets thin, but you can just as easily smash and rub the fractures back together.
Wrap the lined tart pan, or tartlet pans, in plastic and freeze for at least 1 hour before using.
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (W. W. Norton, 2002). Copyright 2002 by Judy Rodgers.
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