Cookbook author Kim Laidlaw says that the first recipe from Julia Child she ever made was her French custard apple tart. The recipe for this delicately flavored tart, filled with vanilla-poached pears and brandy-spiked custard and topped with sugary toasted almonds, is an ode to Julia and that memorable apple dessert.
For the poached pears:
- 3 cups water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 ripe but firm pears, preferably Bosc, peeled, quartered and cored
- Peel of 1 orange, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- Dough for single-crust pie or tart (see related recipe at left)
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. sugar
- 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract or 2 Tbs. brandy (optional)
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
To poach the pears, cut a circle of parchment paper that will fit in a medium saucepan. Cut a small circle in the middle of the parchment. In the saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the pears and orange peel. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with the back of a paring knife; add the pod and seeds to the saucepan. Lay the parchment in the saucepan to submerge the pears. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers gently and poach the pears until just tender, about 15 minutes. Let the pears cool in the poaching liquid.
Preheat an oven to 400°F.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 13-inch round. Transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and ease the dough into the pan. Trim away any excess dough. Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the crust is dried out and just starting to color a bit, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights. Let the crust cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
Cut each pear quarter lengthwise into 4 slices, then lay most of the pear slices in the crust in an overlapping circle close to the rim. Use the remaining slices to fill the middle.
In a bowl, beat together the egg and the 1/4 cup sugar until thick and pale. Beat in the flour and then the cream, vanilla and salt. Pour the custard evenly over the pears. Bake until the custard starts to puff up, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the toasted almonds and the 1 Tbs. sugar over the top of the tart. Continue to bake until the custard is set and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool until warm or room temperature before slicing and serving. Makes one 10-inch tart.
Baker’s note: To turn this into an apple tart, gently sauté 3 peeled, cored and sliced apples in 1 Tbs. butter until they just start to become tender. Spread evenly in the partially baked crust, pour over the custard and proceed with the recipe from there.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort, by Kim Laidlaw (Weldon Owen, 2011).