At the start of this year, I’d planned to put myself on a voluntary “sweets” hiatus, prompted by the same desires (cleansing, renewal, focus) most of us feel as we unwrap and hang new calendars and adjust to writing a new digit on letters and checks.
In my week of holiday travels, I cooked with and for various family members, neither seeking nor needing a break from the kitchen. But while I ate cake and brownies, I didn’t bake, and as each day of holiday vacation ticked by, an uncomfortable feeling began to nag at me. I interepreted this discomfort as a clear sign that I needed a new year’s break from baked goods.
While there’s nothing better than a mouthful of sweet, flaky dough or melted chocolate after a long run, an intense phone call, or a cross-country plane flight when one’s sugar levels have dropped to dangerous “hangry” territory, it took this trip for me to realize that the pleasure I glean from baking is powered as equally by the process as it is by the outcome. My idea of eliminating sweets – not a unique one by any means – was prompted by a desire to regain control (another common new year’s goal). But in my life, I gain control when I push aside my random to-do list and focus on thoughtfully measuring, shaping, rolling, stirring, and folding.
This is all to explain why my hiatus from baking lasted five days in 2014.
Rosemary emits a powerful aroma, so I had my doubts about the outcome of pairing this dominant herb with pears, an often delicate fruit. My questions were fully assuaged with one bite: this tart leaps boundaries. Because of the mascarpone’s prominence and the toasted flavor notes from the almond crust, some bites taste savory and almost quiche-like, while others, due to the sugary, buttery, crumbly topping, call to mind the coffee cake of your dreams. And then there are the pears, their occassionally mealy texture transformed into pure silkiness while in the oven. The tart acquires hints of the aromatic rosemary, but in a pleasing way, like a subtle perfume you briefly notice when someone stands up, rather than the kind of obnoxious scent that overwhelms a room or elevator.
Unwittingly, this tart unearthed another, challenging, new year’s goal: to transcend boundaries, both imaginary and realistic.
Pear & Rosemary Tart
Recipe Source: One Girl Cookies
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3 tablespoons ice water
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- pinch of nutmeg
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3 pears (Bosc, or your preference)
- To make the crust, toast the almonds on a baking sheet for 5 minutes in a 250ºF oven, until they just start to turn golden. Alternatively, you can toast them in a skillet on your stove top. Let cool.
- Transfer the almonds to a food processor and pulse until powdery. Add the flour, sugar, and salt, and mix. Add the butter and pulse 4-5 times, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, mix together the ice water and egg yolk. Add the egg mixture to the food processor, and pulse until the crumbs begin to hold their shape. Flip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form the dough into a 5 inch disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and on a floured surface, roll it out into an 11 inch circle. Press the dough circle into a 9 inch tart pan. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the pan from the fridge and line the crust with tinfoil. Fill the foil with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan, and bake for 15 more minutes. Remove the foil and bake for about 6 minutes, until the crust looks dry and is a pale golden. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.
- Make the topping by combining the sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly.
- Make the filling by combining the egg yolks, honey, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the mascarpone and rosemary.
- Peel, halve, and core the pears, dropping them into a lemon juice/water mixture.
- Assemble the tart by spreading the filling mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust. Drain the pears and thinly slice them. Arrange these slices over the filling. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the pears.
- Bake the tart for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 20 more minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Enjoy!