In my ‘Culinary Calendar‘ column this month for The Arbuturian magazine I wrote about saffron and in particular Sally Francis who with her terrific Norfolk Saffron has been resurrecting Britain’s old and sadly lost saffron production industry.
Sally has written a lovely, short recipe book with various saffron recipes and the one I pulled out to accompany the column was her saffron ice-cream. I wrote that it was destined to accompany pear and almond tart for Easter Sunday lunch just gone. It duly was and it was fantastic. The partnership worked brilliantly of the ice-cream’s slight spiciness knocking the edges off the tart’s sweetness; and its sunny yellow a perfect complement to the creamy colours of the almond and poached pears. Here’s the recipe for the tart.
Pear and Almond Tart
The various elements of the pastry base, almond filling and poached pears can each be made ahead of time and then assembled just prior to baking.
For the pastry case:
- 220g plain flour
- 25g ground almonds
- 50g icing sugar
- pinch of salt
- grated zest of an orange
- 150g butter – cold and cut into 2cm squares
- 1 egg yolk
- 1tsp rosewater
For the almond filling:
- 125g butter, softened
- 125g caster sugar (plus 2tbsps for finishing the tart)
- 2 eggs
- 125g ground almonds
- 1 tbsp plain flour
For the poached pears:
- 250g caster sugar
- juice of half a lemon
- half a teaspoon vanilla essence
- 2 broad strips of orange zest
- 3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 1 star anise
- 4 pears
To bake the pastry case: you will need a 22cm tart tin.
1. Sift into a large bowl the flour, ground almonds, icing sugar and salt. Add in the orange zest. Now use your fingertips to rub the butter cubes in until the whole thing becomes like crumbs.
2. Make a little well and into that goes the egg yolk and the rosewater. Bring it all together and knead just long enough for it to become a smooth dough. Form into a flat round shape, cover in clingfilm and chill for an hour.
3. Roll the pastry out onto a floured-surface to about 3-4mm thick and obviously big enough to cover the tart tin. Ease one end of it over your rolling pin to lift the whole piece up and lay it over the tin. Press into the sides but don’t get rid of all the pastry that’s overhanging – pastry tends to shrink as it bakes. Chill again for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C and put a baking sheet into the oven.
4. Cover the pastry case with a large piece of baking paper and fill it with baking beans or rice. Sit the tart tin on the hot baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes; then remove the beans/paper and continue to bake the case for another 5 minutes. Some trimming of the pastry edges can be done now, but you’ll really sort this out properly at the very end.
5. Prepare the almond filling by creaming together the butter and sugar until light. Beat into that the eggs and then fold in the ground almonds and flour. Set aside until needed.
6. To poach the pears: choose a saucepan that will neatly fit the whole pears. Put the sugar into the pan with 500ml water. Heat to dissolve the sugar then add in the lemon juice, vanilla, orange zest, cardamon and star anise. Peel the pears and put them into the pan. Add more water if needed so that the pears are covered. Simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid on until the pears are tender to a knife. Lift the pears out and leave to cool; then quarter them, remove the core and cut into long slices about a 1cm thick.
When it is time to bake the tart:
7. Preheat the oven to 180C. Sit the tart tin on a baking sheet and fill the case with the almond filling. Evenly spread it and then press into the top the pear slices. Bake for 35 minutes until the filling is set and lightly golden. (Keep an eye on the pastry case and if it is getting too done just cover the edges with foil.) Sprinkle over the reserved 2 tbsps of caster sugar and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
8. Allow the tart to cool in its tin on a wire rack and trim the pastry edges. Serve with cream, creme fraiche or (saffron) ice-cream.