I live in a place that suffers from an embarrassment of riches at harvest time. This year we had a bumper crop of pears. The pears were both abundant in number and generous in size, and I know for a fact no pesticides were used. Not wanting to waste any I harvested them and stored them in a spare fridge, a modern root cellar. I eat them often as a snack, roast them with pork and chicken, and make “pear sauce.” Recently I set out to experiment with using pears instead of apples in a few favorite dishes. I urge you to give it a try too.
One day I looked at my pears and decided to alter one of my favorite classic French recipes, and see how they would fare. If you enjoy French cuisine you are undoubtedly familiar with Tarte Tatin, but just in case you have not been told of the story surrounding this delicious and happy accident I’ll enlighten you. A pair of sisters worked at the Hotel Tatin just before the turn of the last century, and as legend has it, one day while making an apple pie, one of the sisters (reportedly Stephanie) left the apples on the stove too long, created a strongly caramelized syrup rather than a merely cooked apple as had been the intent. In an attempt to rescue her dessert quickly she placed the pastry over the top of the apples and baked it in the oven that way. Stephanie sought to disguise her subterfuge by flipping the pan over after the crust had cooked so that it would look like a regular pie. She served it and, though the mistake was obvious to her guests, they enjoyed her happy accident and it became a culinary sensation.
I saw no reason why pears wouldn’t be just as delicious and might be appealingly different. I urge you to give it a try, even if you aren’t lucky enough to have your own pear tree, but especially if you do.
your own favorite crust recipe (keep dough chilled before rolling out)
one stick of unsalted butter
half cup of sugar
juice of half a lemon
half dozen pears or so
fresh nutmeg (you’re welcome to use cinnamon or other spices but I prefer to nutmeg only with pears)
A shot of brandy or rum (optional)
one cast iron skillet 10″
creme fraiche, whipped creme, or vanilla ice cream (optional)
Core and halve pears. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. When foam subsides (you may have to shake the pan) sprinkle the sugar all over. Place pear halves in pan, cut side up, long side against rim of pan. Use smaller halves for center. You want to fit them in pretty tightly, but only in a single layer. Grate liberal amounts of fresh nutmeg all over. Let them cook away, not stirring, over medium low heat about 30 minutes. Take remaining pear halves and slice medium thin, fan all over top of the pear halves, sprinkle a little more sugar on them and more nutmeg, cook for another 10 minutes or until the caramel is a rich golden color.
This is what the halves look like before a final
layer of pear slices is fanned on top.
Turn off the heat and let it cool completely. After cooling is complete preheat oven to 425. Roll out your dough so that it is slightly larger than the skillet, place over top and tuck the dough in along the sides. Bake in oven till crust is a deep golden color, 30 to 35 minutes.
When it comes out of the oven it should look like this:
Now for the tricky part. As soon after it comes out of the oven as you can, while it’s still hot, take a plate and cover the top of your tarte. Some like to use a plate bigger than the skillet but I prefer a plate that fits just inside the rim. It’s up to you, but be careful, the caramel sauce and the skillet are extremely hot. Using your oven mits, carefully hold opposite sides of the skillet and invert the whole thing and rest the plate down on a level surface. Carefully lift the skillet off, taking care to loosen any pieces on the side that might have gotten stuck. If there is excess liquid you may drain it off, reserve and use to drizzle on pieces of the tarte when serving if you wish. Or use it to make some hot buttered rum.
It should look something like this when you flip it over:
Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or your favorite topping. Enjoy!