For those of you who have made New Year resolutions to “eat better,” I challenge you to define “better.” Perhaps you intend to eat more healthfully and give up spaghetti, sweets or red meat. Perhaps your resolve is to drink less whiskey, diet coke or wine. That’s fine.
If, hungry friends, you are anything like me, your resolution to eat “better” probably means eating a bit more. If the resolution to eat “better” focuses on what is restricted rather than what is enjoyed I’d dare suggest your intentions have become confused. Here’s an opportunity to turn it around. Eat “better” by trying new things and cooking with ingredients you’ve never experimented with before. Add more spice! Add more friends and share with them a meal you’ve just created. Add brandy to a pear tart and welcome the new year with a cup of coffee and an afternoon treat. Eat it mindfully. It’s better that way.
BYOB Pear Tart
All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough recipe reprinted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes enough dough for one double-, or two single-crust pies.
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces, 16 tablespoons or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold
Gather your ingredients: Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl — I like to use a very wide one, so I can get my hands in — whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Dice two sticks (8 ounces or 1 cup) of very cold unsalted butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Get out your pastry blender.
Make your mix: Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with the pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas — this won’t take long — stop. Yes, even if it looks uneven; you’ll thank me later.
Glue it together: Start by drizzling 1/2 cup of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes, if there are any left!) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You’ll probably need an additional 1/4 cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there (see how that big bowl comes in handy?). Gather the disparate damp clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently together.
Pack it up: Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. I like to use the sides to pull in the dough and shape it into a disk. Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out.
Do ahead: Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer. If not using it that day, wrap it in additional layers of plastic wrap to protect it from fridge/freezer smells. To defrost your dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it.
BYOB Pear Filling
Brandied Pear Ingredients:
4 Firm but Ripe Pears (I used Bosc,) halved lengthwise and cored
2T Unsalted Butter
¼ C Agave Sweetener
½ Vanilla Bean split lengthwise in half
1 tsp Ground Clove
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
½ C Brandy
Pinch of Salt
Directions: Melt butter in a heavy skillet over low heat. Add agave, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Scrape the sticky seeds from vanilla bean with a paring knife and add to skillet. Add pears rounded side down and increase heat to medium. Cook until pears are tender, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking (10-15 minutes.) Turn pears over and add brandy, continuing to cook for another 10 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Cool pears in skillet in their juices.
Tart Filling Ingredients:
4 Tsp Unsalted Butter
½ Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise in half
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Cloves
½ tsp Ground Ginger
¼ C Agave Sweetener
1 Large Egg
Pinch of Salt
1 ½ T Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 Egg white, beaten
Directions: Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Add agave, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is fully aromatic (3-4 minutes.) Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, salt and flour. Gradually whisk in butter mixture. Set aside.
Tart Assembly: Roll out your dough! My general savior Deb @ Smitten Kitchen offers an excellent tutorial for rolling pie dough. Her knowledge is infinite!
Preheat Oven to 400 degrees F and position a rack in the center of the oven. Once your dough is positioned in a 9” pie dish (allow 1” excess dough,) pour the tart filling mixture in, spreading evenly. (The mixture will be very thin! Do not be alarmed!)
With a slotted spatula, remove cooled pears from skillet and position evenly, rounded side up, on top of the filling. Reserve remaining juices in skillet for later.
Fold excess dough over pears to form a crust that shelters the outermost rim of the tart. Crimp dough where there might be any cracks. Brush Crust with egg white.
Bake tart until crust is deep golden and filling has set and browned slightly at the edges (approx 50 minutes- 1 hour.)
Allow tart to cool completely before serving. Reheat reserved skillet juices in small saucepan over low heat and drizzle over tart before serving.
Optional garnish: Cardamom Spiced Whipped Cream
1 C Heavy Whipping Cream
1 tsp Ground Cardamom
1 T Sugar
Directions: Beat whipping cream with cardamom and sugar using an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Serve immediately.