The first thing I should note about today’s recipe, a Gingery Pear Chiffon Tart, is that the preamble to the recipe states that it is ideal for a “gala dinner.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I am 26 years old and I work for a nonprofit and I live in the 2nd most expensive city in the country, so there aren’t a lot of “gala dinners” around these parts. In fact, for the most part, my dinners are a nightly challenge to see 1) how many random odds and ends I can incorporate into my meal, and 2) exactly how many days past the expiration date I am willing to go before throwing something out. You do not even want to know the answer to #2. All I can say is that I haven’t yet gotten food poisoning, but lord, I should’ve.
So, you get the idea. This recipe is a tad on the snotty side. I mean, what is something that has the word “chiffon” in the title that isn’t a bit on the snotty side? And so it shouldn’t surprise you that instead of making this for a gala dinner at which all my learned and sophisticated friends gathered around tinkling glasses of cava and goat cheese appetizers while we discussed New Yorker articles and listened to the latest track from the newest musical collective brought to you by some member of Of Montreal or Neutral Milk Hotel or Panda Bear or some band I ain’t never even HEARD OF yet, I just kinda made this. For myself. On a random Saturday afternoon.
Because that is how I ROLL my people. I don’t need some fancy dinner guests to spend 5 hours making a tart. That is the kind of shit I do willingly. Because while others might think poaching pears on a Saturday evening sounds super lame (justifiably), that is the kind of activity that brings me great joy.
Let’s talk about the recipe. First. I totally f’ed up the meringue the first time. When I’m making a multi-component recipe and I screw one of the components up, usually I just forge ahead and ignore ignore ignore. But this was unignorable. I think I added the sugar too early (patience, you fickle mistress) and the egg white never really meringued. It just got super goopy, like melted marshmallow. So I threw it out. Which was the like the first time I’ve ever thrown out something I messed up. Usually I eat it and pretend it’s not so bad. The second time I conquered my premature sugar tossing ways and was able to make a proper meringue, and the net cost was only 1 egg white, 2.5 tbsps sugar, and 1/4 tsp lemon juice, so it didn’t hurt too much when I poured the failure batch down the drain. Too much.
And the decoration is fun, right? Not as awesome as the Open-faced Designer Apple Pie (also a Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe ARE YOU SHOCKED) but you know? There is just something so satisfying about slicing a fruit really thinly and then fanning it out on the top of a tart. There is just something about that process, specifically, that elicits a reaction in my brain that no other process can elicit. It’s the thinly-sliced-and-then-fanned-out-fruit feeling. It’s a thing. It should be its own thing. Defined in some dictionary. Right?
But how do I feel about how it tastes? Well. Friends. First of all: Gingery sweet cookie tart crust. Fucking make it. I don’t care what it holds. It’s crazy good and you need to blindly trust me on this one. The chiffon? Billowy and delicious. Light and airy and fucking (remember when I was going to lay off the f-bombs?) subtly lovely. The pears? Vanilla-y and cool and refreshing. It’s the most snotty and sophisticated thing I’ve ever made, and I considered sipping champagne or something while eating it. But instead I forked it into my mouth at 7:30am Sunday morning for breakfast while I watched dirty hipsters do walks of shame down 24th st. With my pinky held out.
Gingery Pear Chiffon Tart
from the Pie and Pastry Bible, natch
Sweet Ginger Cookie Tart Crust
8 tbsp unsalted butter, cold (I froze mine so I could grate it into the bowl)
1/4 cup sguar
1 1/2 scant cups all-purpose flour (still don’t know exactly how much less “scant” means so I just kinda scooped a little off the top)
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 tsps freshly grated ginger
(I’m amending and paraphrasing these instructions….you know how I feel about Rose’s directions. I don’t have the power to be so precise) Use a box grater to grate the butter into a mixer bowl. Add the sugar and blend until the sugar disappears. Add the flour and mix (I used the whisk attachment on my kitchenaid) until the butter is no larger than small peas (you might have to do some cutting). In a small bowl mix together the yolk, cream, and ginger. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. The dough will be in crumbly pieces. Empty it into a plastic bag and press from the outside just until it holds together. Remove from the bag and place on a large piece of plastic wrap. Form into a disc and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425. Roll the dough out to 1/8″ thick or use a box grater to grate the dough into the tart pan (I used an 11″ tart pan and had JUST ENOUGH DOUGH). Press the dough into the pan and freeze it for like, I don’t know, half an hour? Bake at 425 for 5 minutes, checking every few to see if huge air bubbles have formed–if they have, prick them lightly with a fork. Then turn the oven down to 375 and bake for 10 or 15 minutes more, until the crust is golden. Cool on a rack. (Don’t remove from the pan)
For the poached pears:
2 large ripe but firm Bartlett pears, unpeeled (I used D’Anjou and I poached 3 of them and thank god, because I mangled one and needed backup)
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsps fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsps poire william eau-de-vie (sorry, what? OMITTED)
1/4 cup sugar
1 inch of vanilla bean, cut lengthwise
For the custard:
2 tbsp sugar
a pinch salt
1 1/2 tsps gelatin
3 large egg yolks
3/4 reserved syrup from poaching pears
1/2 cup heavy cream
For the meringue:
1 egg white
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (or 1/4 tsp lemon juice)
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp poire william eau-de-vie (NOT)
For the glaze:
3/4 cup reserved syrup from poaching pears
1 tsp arrowroot (or corn starch)
Halve and core the pears just before poaching so they do not darken. In a 10″ skillet combine the water, lemon juice, and eau-de-vie (right. that.). In a small bowl, place the sugar and vanilla bean, and, using your fingers, rub the seeds into the sugar. Add the vanilla sugar and the vanilla pod to the skillet and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place the pears, hollow side down, in the skillet and bring the liquid to a boil. Place a round of parchment on top of the pears (i just used a pot lid. is that not ok?). Simmer over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until soft but still firm. Remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temp. Transfer the pears and their syrup to a bowl. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Drain the pears, reserving the liquid (about 1 3/4 cups). Remove the vanilla bean. Cover the pears & refrigerate them. Pour the liquid into a small saucepan. Boil down the liquid to 1 1/2 cups.
Make the custard filling: Chill a mixing bowl for whipping the cream. Have a fine strainer suspended over a small mixing bowl ready near the range.
In a small heavy nonreactive saucepan, using a wooden spoon, stir together the sugar, salt, gelatin, and yolks until well blended.
In another small saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of the reduced pear poaching liquid to the boiling point. Stir a few tbsps of the hot poaching liquid into the yolk mixture; then gradually add the rest of it stirring constantly.
Heat the mixture to just before the boiling point (this happens super quickly, so don’t waste time TRYING TO TAKE A PICTURE OF IT or your custard will boil and then i don’t know what happens…the world ends?). The mixture should be slightly thicker than heavy cream and will leave a well-defined track when a finger is run across the back of the spoon. Immediately remove from the heat and pour it into the strainer, scraping up the thickened custard on the bottom of the pan. Set it aside.
In the chilled bowl, whip the cream until it mounds softly when dropped from a spoon. Refrigerate while preparing the meringue.
Make the meringue: In a mixing bowl, beat the egg while until foamy. Add the cream of tartar (i substituted 1/4 tsp lemon juice, which is apparently legitimate) and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
Chill the pear custard by placing the bowl in a bowl of ice water with a tbsp of salt added to it to speed chilling. Stir occasionally for the first 10 minutes and then slowly but constantly for about 10 minutes longer (not going to lie. very. loosely. followed those directions). When a small amount dropped from the spoon mounds very slightly on the surface before disappearing and the mixture has started to set around the edges but is still very liquid, remove from the ice-bath and whisk in the pear eau-de-vie (RIGHT). Continuing with the whisk, fold in the meringue and then the whipped cream until just incorporated. The mixture will be billowy but soupy like melted ice cream. Pour at once into the pastry shell. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Use a sharp thin knife to slice the pears lengthwise into thin slices. Place a fan of overlapping slices on top of the filling with the pointed ends at the center.
Make the glaze: In a small saucepan, boil down the reserved 3/4 cup of poaching syrup to 1/4 cup. Cool it to room temperature, then add the arrowroot (cornstarch). Heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove it from the heat and, using a brush, coat the pears with the glaze. Refrigerate and all to set for at least 4 hours before serving.