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Coming home

The best part about leaving your childhood home is visiting it again. Luckily, I live only 30 minutes away from my mom and my old house and I normally visit once a week. Sometimes, if I’m feeling stressed or in need of TLC, I will stay for a night or two. After living on your own, it’s nice to have someone take care of you. I never knew how solitary doing laundry and washing dishes could be until I did them all on my own in my quiet little house.

The other plus side about coming home is being able to eat real food. Not to say that I don’t eat food when I’m on my own, but let’s just say that most of my meals are built around eggs, soups, and frozen dishes. I know, sad, right? But, in my defense, every time I’ve made myself a big meal, I am forced to toss the leftovers away after day five. I hate wasting food so instead, I live on easy-to-prepare meals. Also, I snack like crazy. Fruit, yogurt, Larabars, toast. For instance, last night’s dinner consisted of a fried egg, and peanut butter toast. And it was damn delicious.

Back home, meals are planned out. My mom, who was never a big cook when I was young, loves to cook meals whenever I come back to visit, as if her Pot Roast and potatoes could lure me back to the nest (smart thinking). Or she will conjure up a nostalgic Chinese dish that will remind me of those nights as a kid when I patiently waited for my mom to come from work so I could tell her all about my elementary school adventures. Poor lady, I’m sure she was exhausted but she feigned interest as I rattled on about the boy who pushed me down on the playground, or the timeout I received for refusing to take my bright yellow boots off even though I dragged in ridiculous amounts of mud and dirt around the classroom.

While my mom is in charge of the dinners, I’m in charge of the dessert. I will normally load her up with any baked treats I made during the week. Pans of brownies and bags of cookies are met with open arms, and I’m sure she is a big favorite at the office. This past weekend, I decided to up my game and bake a divine French Pear Tart from Dorie Greenspan. I tend to stay away from these long baking projects because they require a long preparation time and they are hard to divvy up for the office. But this time around, I wanted that wonderful combination of sweet almond cream and a buttery crust.

Remember the days when I used to struggle with pastry dough? I used to hate dealing with it but those days have passed. With some experience under my belt, I knew how to appropriately handle the dough, when to stop touching it, and it paid off. My crust puffed up a little too much, but with the almond cream poured on top, I didn’t mind too much. The almond cream was made of butter, sugar, eggs, and ground almonds. It was sweeter than I expected but I didn’t mind. Also, my pears were a little too ripe but they were the only ones I had on hand and I needed to use them up quickly. Firmer pears would have held up stronger in the oven, but these worked well too.

After a hearty meal of pot roast and a couple glasses of wine, we dove in to the pear tart and quietly ate are slices while watching “Mad Men”. After the show ended, we grabbed seconds and the following morning, we ate it for breakfast. Between the both of us, we polished off half of the tart and we could have kept going but my tastebuds were sugared out.

This tart was a smashing success and I’m glad to have another experience with pastry dough under my belt. Next up, a simple apple tart and maybe a caramel tart. Although knowing me, I might burn myself with that caramel…

French Pear Tart
Printable recipe here
Origin: Baking: From My Home to Yours
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 to 60 minutes

For the pears:
● 6 canned pear halves OR 3 medium pears, firm but ripe
● 1 lemon
● 4 cups water, optional
● 1 1/4 cups sugar, optional

For the almond cream:
● 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
● 2/3 cup sugar
● 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
● 2 tsp. all-purpose flour
● 1 tsp. cornstarch
● 1 large egg
● 2 tsp. dark rum or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 partially-baked 9-inch tart shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough, at room temperature
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting, or apple jelly for glazing


Getting ready:
If you are using canned pears, you have nothing to do now. If you are using fresh pears but do not wish to poach them, you have nothing to do now. If you are using fresh pears and want to poach them, peel them and leave them whole. Bring the 4 cups water, the 1 1/4 cups sugar and the juice of the lemon to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat so the syrup simmers and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup.

To make the almond cream: Put the butter and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend. If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula. In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order. Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours.

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have a lined baking sheet at the ready. If you are using fresh (unpoached) pears, peel them now. If you are using poached or unpoached pears, cut them in half from blossom to stem and core them; rub the unpoached pears with lemon juice. Whatever pears you have, make sure to pat them dry – really dry – so that their liquid won’t keep the almond cream from baking.

Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal icing spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream. The halves will form spokes.

Put the crust on the lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding.

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October 26, 2009 - 12:33 pm

whitneyinchicago - I am slowly getting over my fear of pastry dough. Your tart looks lovely. I’m glad you had a relaxing evening with your mom.

October 26, 2009 - 2:57 pm

Celine - so lovely, Amanda!

October 26, 2009 - 7:03 pm

MollyCookie - You’re lucky to live so close to your mom. That’s wonderful that you can pop over and spend an evening at your childhood home once a week. There really is no place like home!

October 26, 2009 - 11:25 pm

Emily - I agree, you are really lucky to live near your mom. I live…oh, about an ocean away from my parents and there are some days when I would love to live just a mere jaunt down the highway from them.

And I totally know how you feel about easy to prepare meals and such. I eat a lot of soup when I’m on my own. A LOT of soup. But when I moved into my apartment, the person who was here before left a bunch of books, including “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.” You should check it out. It’s a collection of essays from great food writers (MFK and Amanda Hesser for example) and not so known food writers about experiences dining alone. Some even come with recipes! It’s a pretty quick read and fun to pick up while you’re eating your soup. Or fried eggs. haha.

October 27, 2009 - 2:49 am

Kristin at The Kitchen Sink - Lovely, Amanda — both the tart & the evening. Can’t wait to see the apple and caramel tarts!

October 27, 2009 - 10:29 am

Dolce - Tarte bourdaloue… Mmmm I just love it!

October 27, 2009 - 10:54 am

R Becklund - Oh my god! This looks amazing. I’m sure it tastes as good as it looks. I’ve got to try this recipe. Thanks!

October 27, 2009 - 10:56 am

Elizabeth - Beautiful! What a perfect way to enjoy all of the pears falling into season. This looks lovely.

October 27, 2009 - 1:23 pm

Lindsay - looks amazing!

October 27, 2009 - 6:06 pm

lavienouveau - This is lovely!

October 27, 2009 - 7:00 pm

Rachel - One thing I have found really helpful in terms of cooking for one or two is to freeze things. Soups, stews and many other foods are great frozen!

October 27, 2009 - 10:14 pm

Justine - This looks super yummy! I can’t wait to try it out.

October 28, 2009 - 8:08 am

EB - Man oh man. I don’t live on m own and somehow still manage to have to toss leftovers after day 3 or so… I feel ya on the eggs and soup!

October 28, 2009 - 4:22 pm

mieletcannelle - Oh I do miss my mother terribly, people are so lucky to be close to family. I miss the food at my families home – it is incredible, and loved, and makes me feel just so. Beautiful photos my dearest. xo

October 28, 2009 - 5:02 pm

steph (whisk/spoon) - mmm…sometimes i do wonder why i live on the other side of the counrty from my parents. my mother would love this tart, too!

October 28, 2009 - 6:28 pm

nicole - I was reading this and kept nodding along … and now I have the perfect thing to make this weekend when I go to *my* childhood home (thank you). I think we’ll also eat it while watching ‘Mad Men.’ :)

October 29, 2009 - 9:52 am

Amanda - That’s exactly how I envisioned you to enjoy this tart!!

November 30, 2009 - 4:04 pm

Joe - I just made 2 tarts of this recipe. Amazing! Thanks for the recipe and all you do!

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