Pears are the perfect “transition” fruit. Ripe at the end of summer when peaches and plums are just beginning to fade but apples are still maturing on the trees. They bridge the gap, carrying us gracefully from summer into fall. I always have several big bowls of pears on the kitchen counters and table starting in the first days of September, both as a way to decorate and to tempt the kids into having a healthy snack when they get home from school. I love all the different varieties and colors, and find them so captivating, so beautiful… but isn’t that to be expected from a fruit that, when perfectly ripe, is soft, supple and shaped like a woman’s body? When I walk into the kitchen and see them on the table, draped in the silky autumn sunlight I feel as if I’ve stepped into a Cézanne still-life. Either that or a painting by Lefebvre.
There’s another reason why I love pears, though. It’s because they are so versatile! Of course, they’re amazing poached with a little sweetened cream, but they can also be used in any recipe that calls for apples. Pear crisp, pear pie, baked pears, etc. I love to make warm pear scones for breakfast on the weekends or simmer them in a little Cognac and brown sugar to serve on top of pancakes. Really, they are nature’s secret to effortless elegance. Whereas apples make everything feel warm and cozy, pears make the same recipes feel refined and sophisticated. These are the dishes that grace my kitchen table every September.
Pear and Honey Tart
Instead of a traditional tart crust I use a sugar cookie dough. It’s rich and buttery which contrasts perfectly with the light, fresh flavour of the pears. Skip the rolling pin and simply press it into the pan.
sweet pastry crust:
1/2 cup (113g) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50g) super-fine sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (195g) flour
for the filling:
8 pears (assorted varieties – I used Bartlett and Red pears)
5 TBSP honey (divided)
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
1 TBSP butter
1 TBSP sugar
sliced almonds, toasted (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
To make the crust, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, salt and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in the flour until the dough just comes together. It will be rather crumbly.
Place the dough into a nine-inch round tart pan with removable bottom. Press it evenly into the pan and up the sides. I use the bottom of a measuring cup to ensure an even layer.
Blind bake the crust: Cut a sheet of parchment paper into a circle a little larger than your tart pan. Butter or lightly spray one side. Place it buttered side down onto the crust and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake the crust for 15 – 20 minutes, then remove the parchment or weights, turn the oven to 360 F (180 C) and bake another 3 – 5 minutes until lightly brown.
Meanwhile make the filling: Peal, core and chop 4 of the pears. Place in a sauce pan with 2 tablespoons honey, 1/4 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the pears are very tender. Remove from the heat and mash the pears with a potato masher. Set aside.
Core and thinly slice the remaining 4 pears and place in a bowl of water with lemon juice to keep from browning.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3 tablespoons of honey with 1/2 teaspoon of water and heat in the microwave until thin and spreadable, 20 – 25 seconds.
When the tart shell is finished with the blind bake, brush half the mixture over the bottom to seal the crust and protect it from the pear’s liquid. Let the honey dry for a few minutes, then spread the cooked pears evenly into the shell. Dry the sliced pears on a few sheets of paper towel and arrange neatly on top. Brush the pears with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Place the tart on a larger baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes longer or until the pears on top and slightly browned and very soft. (If the edges of the tart start browning too quickly, cover them loosely with foil.) Remove from the oven and brush the tart with the remaining warm honey and sprinkle on the almonds. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.