Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pear and Vanilla Tarte Tatin

"Tarte Tatin" has now become an absolute French classic. It is traditionally made using apples, but I guess due to its huge popularity these days, people are looking for variations on the recipe. Our variety is to use pears in place of the apples. A tarte tatin is a layer of fruit coated in caramel with a layer of pastry placed over the top, with the whole thing being turned over after baking in the oven. We wanted to add another flavour, vanilla, into the finished product. There is no better smell than that of a vanilla pod. It is rich and creamy and works really well with pears. Some recipes suggest to just cook the pears for 10 or 15 minutes in the caramel first before baking in the oven, but we have again adapted this and used a poaching liquid to par-cook the pears and to infuse the vanilla flavour. When we turned over the pan and revealed the tart, we saw a beautifully crisp pastry with soft, sweet and sticky pears. Served with custard, it was delicious.
A Tarte Tatin is a sweet, sticky and delicious dessert but we think the best thing about it is its versatility. There is so much room to personalise this to your liking and it can be kept as simple as possible, or you can put in a little more effort and make it really luxurious. We opted for the latter.

When searching the internet for inspiration for this dish, it was amazing how many people just suggest to use shop-bought pastry. This goes against everything we are trying to do on our culinary journey and so we went the extra mile and made our own "ruff-puff" pastry. Definitely worth the effort. Ruff-puff pastry is somewhere between a shortcrust and a puff pastry. So it has the lightness and crunch of puff pastry, but it also holds together quite well when it becomes moist. So when we turned the tart out of the pan, the caramel soaked down into the pastry, but it held its shape and stayed firm and crisp. I think that if you used shop bought puff pastry it would quickly go soggy. This pastry was also strong enough to hold together over night so I could cut a nice slice for my breakfast the following day!

The rich and pungent flavour of this dessert really comes from the effort taken to poach the pears. And this particular poaching liquid will really lift your pears to another level. It is basically a watered-down caramel which is infused with the vanilla. Very sweet and rich, but this dessert is a real treat.


For the pears
4 pears - peeled
400g caster sugar
170g butter
400ml water
Zest of 1 lemon
1 star anise
1 vanilla pod

For the pastry
200g plain flour
125g butter
about 2-3tbsp cold water

For the caramel
100g sugar
50g butter


1. Start by preparing the poaching liquid. Heat the sugar in a saucepan until it turns into a dark caramel. Then add the butter in small amounts until all melted.

2. Add the water and add the lemon, star anise and vanilla pod (slice the vanilla pod in half lengthways first).

3. Bring to a very slow simmer and leave for about 30mins. Then strain the liquid and return to the heat.

4. Add the pears and cook until just soft and then allow to cool in the liquid to soak up all the flavours.

5. Once cooled take the pears out of the liquid, half them and take out the core.

6. Prepare the pastry using the quantities above and follow the technique outlined in our Oxtail Pie recipe. (The tarte tatin recipe uses a lower ratio of butter to flour as the pears are very rich and so a rich pastry would be a little too much!)

7. Next, in an ovenproof frying pan (about 20cm diameter), melt the sugar to make a caramel and then add the butter. Once melted, add the pears to the pan with the core side facing up.

8. Roll out the pastry to a circle a little larger than the frying pan. Then place the pastry over the pears and tuck it in between the pears and the edge of the frying pan.

9. Place in a preheated oven at 180C and cook for about 30mins or until the pastry is brown and crisp.

10. Take the pan out of the oven and allow to cool for 10mins. Then find a plate which will fit neatly inside the pan. Place it on top of the pastry and then turn the whole lot upside down so that the tart sits on the plate with the pears facing up and the pastry on the bottom.

11. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

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