Baking: Tarting up a classic pear dessert

Vanessa Greenwood: Add wow factor to pear and almond tart with a salted caramel layer

Chocolate pear tart with salted caramel. Photograph:  Harry Weir Photography

Chocolate pear tart with salted caramel. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography

 

At this time of year many cooks turn to hosting a special evening with friends. A warm atmosphere and cheerful welcome into someone’s home on a cold night is a special thing. Being treated to a candlelit dinner is an honour. For busy people, entertaining at home requires advance planning and often some special diets will have to be considered. It is a lot of work but always worth it.

A seasoned hostess, my marvel of a cousin entertains with ease. Her awesome desserts are as legendary as her spotless kitchen. She has built up an arsenal of superb desserts over the years. Beautiful looking, yet tasty desserts are her forte. She doesn’t mind preparing desserts which entail a few steps. The most important thing is that she can make it ahead. My goal is to present a dessert that ticks those boxes and is worthy of her repertoire.

Tarts are perfect for entertaining. They are attractive, easy to double up to fit larger tins and can often be made in advance and frozen. We regularly make a delicious pear and almond tart in the cookery school. To add the wow factor, this chocolate version has a luxurious layer of salted caramel nestling amid the pears.

To skip a step or two in this recipe, you can buy ready-to-roll all-butter shortcrust pastry. I am a big fan of tinned pears in natural juice. They are so handy for this type of dessert when the soft texture of the pears is crucial.

Chocolate pear tart with salted caramel

Ingredients
Serves 6 
For the pastry
225g plain flour
110g cold butter, diced small
30g icing sugar, sieved
1 egg

For the tart
300g-350g pear halves, in natural juice (or 3 ripe pears)
100g dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
Pinch sea salt
125g ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
150g salted caramel (or add sea salt flakes to caramel)
15g flaked almonds
Icing sugar, to serve

Method
Grease a 20cm-22cm (3cm deep) loose bottom tart tin. Preheat oven to 180°C fan.
To make the pastry, sieve the flour into a bowl. Add the diced butter and rub into the flour to make fine breadcrumbs. Stir in icing sugar. Add the egg and bring it together to a firm dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 20 minutes.


Roll out the pastry and line the tin. To bake the pastry blind, prick the base lightly with a fork, line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until the pastry is light golden. Remove the beans

Drain the pears and pat dry with kitchen paper to remove excess liquid. Set aside.
Melt the chocolate in a bain marie (or microwave at 10 second bursts, till melted). Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric whisk to soften the butter, then add in the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy. On a slow speed, gradually add eggs, vanilla extract, and a pinch of sea salt. Fold in the ground almonds until just combined. 

Fold the melted chocolate into the batter. Sprinkle lemon zest over the baked tart case. Slice the pears into thin slices and lay over the tart base.

Dot the caramel over the pears and spread evenly with a knife (if you don’t have salted caramel, sprinkle a generous pinch of quality sea salt flakes over regular caramel).

Spoon the chocolate batter over the layer of caramel. Scatter flaked almonds over the top. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin. Serve lightly dusted with icing sugar.

Variation
For a gluten-free tart base, blitz 250g toasted hazelnuts. Mix with 40g melted butter and 30g sugar. Press into the base of the tin without the need to bake blind. 

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