by Amanda Mattos
Pie crust is scary. Everybody knows that. Even the most skilled bakers tremble and fail when attempting this most insurmountable of tasks. It took several pie parties for me to work up the courage to even attempt making my own. I started with Shepherd’s Pie (which is really just a casserole), then moved on to other savory pies (savory is much more my wheelhouse than sweet) with pre-made crust. Finally I ventured into the shaky territory of crust-making with a simple tart crust that I filled with goat cheese and tomatoes. I realized that just about anything you could put in a deadly-difficult pie crust, you could put in this hard-to-mess-up mold, call it a tart, and be warmly accepted by your friends. Maybe sometime a few years from now I’ll do something more complicated, but for now, tarts are my thing.
My standard tart crust recipe in hand, and months of longingly wanting an excuse to make this stuff, I decided on a caramelized pear tart for this most recent pie party, and wouldn’t you know it, Snow Bear had pears last week. I read about a million different recipes (for upside down tart tatins, apple pies, and many other things), and cobbled together an approach that yielded sinfully delicious results.
Preheat the oven to 425.
Simple Tart Crust
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, divided
- 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Cut the flour and salt together in a food processor, adding 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) of sliced butter bit by bit. Pulse until the mixture is balled up about the size of peas. Keep the processor running and add the ice water (add more if your mixture is too dry, but be sure not to make it too wet/sticky). Process just until the dough becomes crumbly, and be sure not to overprocess. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and mound it up into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and shove it in the freezer to chill for at least an hour before using it.
Bring the dough out to come down closer to room temperature just before baking. Roll it out and place it in the bottom of your pie pan. Some people like to remove excess crust. I like to fold it over the edges of the pie on top. This time around, however, I didn’t have any excess, so the crust stopped right at the edge of the pan.
Caramelized Pear Tart Filling
- 2 pounds firm-ripe Bosc pears (3 to 5)
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
My ball-of-dough chilling in the freezer, I peeled and sliced about 2 pounds of pears. (I’m not sure what variety of pears they were; not Boscs, I know that much. Man, I really love bosc pears.) It was time to start melting a bunch of butter in my hot hot cast iron and turning that into caramel.
Heat butter over moderate heat, let it get all foamy then let the foam subside. Then, the magic happens. Stir in the sugar; it won’t dissolve, but it will slowly start to turn into syrupy goodness.
Add the pears, sprinkle them with cinnamon, and let them sit in the delicious, delicious goo for a while. You’re letting the caramel form underneath the fruit, so you don’t want to move them around too much. I stirred a bit just to make sure all the fruit was covered.
When the fruit has cooled a little bit, pour it into the crust you’ve got waiting in your pie pan. Toss it into the oven and let it bake for about 35 minutes.
Now, here’s the part where most people would stop and tell you to serve it with whipped cream or ice cream. But what am I gonna do? I’m gonna make some Smitten Kitchen salted caramel sauce, drizzle that over each slice, and top it off with some very fancy flaked sea salt that my mom gave me for Christmas. There truly is nothing more glorious than salt and caramel and pears. It wouldn’t be excessive to say this is the best dessert I’ve ever made.