It's rainy and grey and I am so happy to be at home in my warm kitchen. It's been a long time since I've baked or made any dessert-type food. I've made lots of enormous pots of soup and slow cooker pot roasts and hearty stews these last few, cold weeks. My food styling and photography skills are not yet to the point where I can make a bowl of brown glop look good, no matter how delicious it really was, so I thought it was time for something pretty.
I have still been eating the same way I was last summer. There were a few holiday and travel setbacks, but there is such a difference in how I feel when I eat well and stay away from grains and too much sugar and processed food, so I avoid them as much as possible. I'll do a follow up post soon and talk about that a little more. So it's a truly special treat for me to make something like this, and while there is a little sugar involved, there's no flour at all!
I was inspired by this tart from Roost, and some delicate, small Forelle pears I picked up at the market the other day. Have you visited Roost before? The whole site is inspiring, as well as beautifully written and photographed. What's even better, most recipes are gluten free.
I made the crust exactly as written, although my almond meal from Trader Joe's. The unblanched almonds make for a dark and nutty crust that was very dense. I think blanched almond flour would probably be a little prettier and lighter, and I'd like to try to find some for the next time. Still, it was very flavorful and rich, and not too sweet, so I made a nice backdrop for the pears and cream.
The rest was an experiment. I poached the pears in apple cider, and added star anise, cardamom, vanilla, and fresh ginger. Since they were small, they only took twenty-five minutes or so until they were tender.
I used Vanilla Bean Paste in everything. Have you seen this? It might not be exactly the same as using a vanilla bean, but it's very close and much less expensive. You can see all the little bean flecks when you use it, unlike plain old vanilla extract.
I decided to make a pastry cream/creme brulee/custard sort of hybrid for the creamy part. And that's where my experimenting got the best of me, so I hope I don't make any pastry chefs out there cringe at my naivity (and of course, if you can suggest a better way to accomplish this, please do!). It was really, really delicious, but a little too runny.
Here's what I did: I added a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste and a few crushed cardamom pods to a pint of heavy cream and brought it to a boil. Then I turned off the heat and put a lid on the pan and let it steep for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I whisked three egg yolks with about 1/3 cup of sugar (raw, organic cane sugar), until it was nice and light. I added a little cream to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper them, and then slowly added the rest of the cream and continued to whisk (I was fishing out the cardamom pods as I poured it in to save myself from having to strain them out). I returned all this to the pan and cooked it over another pan of simmering water, whisking the whole time, for about five minutes, until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. I let it cool to room temperature, and it got a little thicker, so I poured it into the baked crust and put it in the fridge to chill for an hour or two. It did set up some more, but it's still a bit too thin.
And it turns out I am not a champion pear-arranger either. Still, the pears were subtly spiced, and the cream filling was flavorful and well, creamy and addicting. It all worked together so well. Of course I can't show you what a slice looked like, because it was about on par with that bowl of brown slop I mentioned earlier.