Monthly Archives: November 2014

Pear and Almond Tart

Today is something of a fond farewell to autumn, for I’m off on holiday today, and when I get back, we should be in the early days of winter. Or put another way, I’ll be spending a couple of weeks in South Africa enjoying late spring in a particularly attractive part of the world. All in all, I’m pretty thrilled about that! Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, wine, beaches…what a perfect November!

Anyway, before that, a little autumnal treat from this side of the globe. I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve been really into pears this year. I’ve made pear jam, I’ve made pear crumble, I’ve made pear liqueur (again) and I used pears in a four-tiered birthday cake. I’ve made pear paste for cheese, and thrown them in salads with blue cheese and walnuts. All in all, a complete pear affair, but I think this little tart has really topped it all. It is one of those classic combinations of sweet, fragrant almond frangipane with pears, the lot glazed in apricot jam and looking oh-so-tempting as an after dinner treat. And the great thing is that it looks fancy but – shhhhhhhh – it’s really rather easy!

pearalmondtart

This tart looks fairly complex, but it actually a complete doddle to make. You really only need some decent sweet shortcrust pastry (use my recipe, use your own, or even just cheat and buy it – I get that some people have lives and need to do other things alongside impressing friends). The filling is just a case of mixing everything until smooth, and the only “tricky bit” is arranging the pear slices on top.

Now, in fairness, arranging those pear slices was a little trickier than I first thought. The trick is to cut the pear with a very sharp knife to get good, clean slices, then push everything so that it slides out into that fan shape. Then slide the knife under the pear fan, and carefully transfer onto the tart. It took me a couple of attempts to get it right, but nothing that you would not get the hang of very easily.

I have made a couple of little tweaks which depart slightly from the “classic” pear and almond tart, but I think that they really work. First, I spread a thin layer of pear and vanilla jam on the base. Thin, not great big spoonfuls of the stuff. It helps to add a little extra fruitness and sweetness at the bottom of the tart. I also mixed the jam with a couple of spoons of quince liqueur to add a little extra aromatic touch. If you’ve never tried it, I cannot tell you how good it is. Incredibly easy to make at home, and after a few weeks or months of resting, the result is a clear, golden liqueur that has a delicious apple-and-honey flavour. Second, I happened to have a bit of that pear liqueur left, so I added it to the apricot jam I used to glaze the tart, adding just an extra hint of fresh pear and spice to finish it off. A perfect little slice of autumn!

To make Pear and Almond Tart:

For the pastry

• 180g plain flour
• 65g unsalted butter, cold
• 65g icing sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• cold water

For the almond frangipane

• 100g ground almonds
• 50g caster sugar
• 70g unsalted butter
• 1 egg
• 1 egg white
• almond extract

For the pears

• almond frangipane (above)
• 2 tablespoons pear or apricot jam
• 3-4 ripe pears (depending on size)
• lemon juice

For the glaze

• 4 tablespoons apricot jam, sieved
• 1 tablespoon pear liqueur or brandy

1. Make the pastry – mix the flour and icing sugar, then work in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and cold water (a tablespoon at a time) until the mixture comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out and use to line a 20 cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed flan dish. Place in the fridge while you make the filling.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and put a flat metal tray in the oven. This will help ensure the base cooks properly later on.

3. Make the filling – beat the butter until creamy, then add the sugar, almonds, egg and egg white, plus a few drops of almond extract. Watch out – the almond flavour stuff can be strong, so err on the side of caution!

4. Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Spread with the jam, then add the filling and smooth.

5. Prepare the pears – peel, core and cut in half. Rub each with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Place each pear on a board, cut side down, and slice. Push from the thin end so that the pieces fan out. Slide a knife underneath, then transfer to the tart. Brush each with a little lemon juice so that the cut sides of pear do not discolour. Repeat until you have a giant pear star on your tart.

6. Bake the tart for 50-60 minutes until the filling has a good colour. It if looks like it is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil and turn the temperature down a little.

7. Once the tart is cooked, remove from the oven and make the glaze by mixing the apricot jam with the brandy/pear liqueur. Brush over the warm tart and leave to cool.

Worth making? This looks fancy, but is actually fairly easy to make, and tastes great. I made it for a party, and it was the first tart to go completely, with people coming back for seconds, so I dare say that this is a pretty good recipe!

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Spiced Walnut Buns

How are you enjoying the chill? We’ve just enjoyed a spell of unusually warm weather (the warmest Halloween for many years), and then, almost overnight, temperatures plummeted. Last weekend we were sitting in the sunshine, this morning I woke up to frost on the lawn! It is starting to feel that winter really is coming, and alongside the colder weather, we also had that other seasonal signal where the skies of Britain were lit up with fireworks.

Yes, Bonfire Night! I do love it, but my two poor cats heard all those bangs outside, and scuttled into cosy corners under radiators until the noise had abated. This for me really does say that winter is just around the corner, but this time of year does have the fringe benefit of allowing you to gather outside and share your attempts to keep warm, from getting toasty hands around the fire, to spicy snacks and hot drinks (which may or may not contain a tot of rum for more mature firework-gazers). Or in my case, this delicious batch of spicy, sticky walnut buns!

WalnutSpiceBuns2

This was my contribution to a fireworks party, and I was originally thinking of making them with some sort of fruit. I’ve been having a “pear affair” in the last few weeks, but I wasn’t sure that their delicate flavour would be so good in these buns. Then I remembered that I had a huge bag of walnuts that I was given by my friend Nargis from a trip abroad. A few weeks ago, I had spent an afternoon opening them with a pair of nutcrackers. Alas, my aim of opening perfect walnuts like those trained squirrels from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came to almost nothing – of the 150 or so I had to open, only one whole! The rest ended up in different stages of disintegration. Maybe not so pretty, but perfect for baking, and the flavour of freshly-shelled nuts really is magnificent.

 WalnutSpiceBuns

Again, I have just used my standard and dependable bun recipe, with a little brown sugar in the dough, but they were packed with lots and lots of walnuts. I chopped them up, some very finely and others left in larger chunks, as I quite like a nut filling that seems like nuts, rather than just being some sort of a soft paste. For the spice, I wanted something more complex and warming that just cinnamon, so added some garam masala spice mixture, which worked beautifully with the nuts.

Once they were baked, they got a brown sugar glaze to keep the soft, and they were finished with a light coating of water icing. As there is not too much sugar in the dough, they are not actually too sweet, but they did look rather pretty, the icing suggesting the frost that has finally arrived.

WalnutSpiceBuns1

To make Spiced Walnut Buns (makes 12):

For the filling:

• 70g butter, soft
• 70g soft brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons mixed spice (I used garam masala)
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 1 tablespoon plain flour

1. Mix everything until smooth.

For the glaze:

• 50g soft brown sugar
• 50ml water

1. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil for about a minute.

For the icing:

• 200g icing sugar
• 3 tablespoons boiling water

1. Whisk the icing sugar and hot water until smooth (do this just before using).

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g brown sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon or mixed spice
• 325g strong white flour
• 150g walnuts, roughly chopped

1a. If using a bread machine: put everything except the walnuts into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

1b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, mixed spice and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

2. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Spread with the filling, sprinkle with the walnuts, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

3. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

5. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot glaze.

6. Once the buns are cooled, make the icing and brush over the buns.

Worth making? These were fantastic – you’ll go nutty over these nutty treats!

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