Pear & Hazelnut Tart

“If you're afraid of butter, use cream.” ~ Julia Child

Julia did use cream. And she used butter too. In this recipe, she used both. It has been a long while since I last made a fruit tart from scratch. I first learned how to make pâte sucrée (sweet pastry dough) when I was up to my elbows in flour and butter during French pastry class. This dough is a basic and it has variations. To my surprise, Julia Child's pâte sucrée recipe calls for heavy cream and egg yolks, and of course no surprise to the 8 ounces of butter. But, heavy cream? Anyway, after the initial question mark in my mind, I decided to try it.

Back in 1991 when I took classes with Master Pastry Chef and cookbook author Jim Dodge in the little kitchen of Westlake Culinary Institute, I didn't recall my former pastry teacher's recipe for pâte sucrée containing heavy cream. Here goes it, I thought. If it worked for Julia, then it will work for me. I added lemon zest and toasted hazelnuts to the original recipe.

Pâte Sucrée (makes 2 tarts)

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, ground fine

I whisked the cream and the eggs together in my KitchenAid mixer. In a separate large bowl, I combined the flour, sugar, salt and butter with my fingers and sprinkled in some toasted and finely ground hazelnuts. Also I thought to add some lemon zest, and quickly grabbed a lemon to add it in, zesting away into the bowl. I had toasted the hazelnuts and ground them up in my blender previous to making this dough. I added just about 1/4 cup of hazelnuts. Once all the butter was combined with the flour, making a coarse meal, I switched the bowls and brought the dough together with the KitchenAid mixer, minding not to overwork the dough. After using the mixer, I used my hands, separating the dough in half, shaping them into discs and then wrapping the dough in plastic wrap to rest in the fridge.

The next day I rolled out the dough and formed it into a tart pan.

Then I made the frangipane filling:

  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts, ground fine
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft but still cool
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 Bosc or Anjou pears, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam for glaze

This was so easy.

I beat the butter and 1/4 cup sugar with the KitchenAid mixer at medium high speed until pale and frothy. Then I added the eggs, beating well, then adding in the vanilla and almond extracts. I set the speed to low and mixed in the hazelnuts. Once the filling was well mixed and ready, I spread the frangipane filling into the tart shell. Decorating the tart with the peeled and sliced pears was fun, fanning the slices into a beautiful design. It reminded me of a Monet painting I had seen somewhere (*see main photo posted above).

I baked the tart at 350 degrees until the pears looked golden and the frangipane puffed up around the pear slices. Brushing the pears with jam, I wished I had bought apricot rather than using what I had on hand, which was fig and ginger jam. Apricot would have tasted much better. The coloring also would have been more appetizing than the fig jam.

Once the tart cooled, I brushed the jam on, separated the tart base from the ring, and set it out on a cutting board. It was lovely.

The pâte sucrée worked! I will never doubt Julia Child again when a recipe that typically calls for ice water is suddenly heavy cream. And the hazelnuts! The sweet pastry crust tasted like shortbread, with a wonderfully buttery and cookie-like texture. It wasn't too sweet, neither was the filling. Perfectly balanced, in fact. I would have preferred the tart to have more fruit, so adding more slices of pear would have been tastier yet.

The pears I used were both Bosc and Anjou, at that just ripe texture. As far as the aphrodisiac qualities of hazelnuts go, they are a rich source of vitamin E, and fabled for their enhancement of desire. The feminine shape of a pear is enticing and looks so juicy in the tart that I just can't help but suggest that pears are a much tastier choice than apples in some dishes. Pears go back in history as the trees are mentioned in the settings of Greek mythology. However, there really isn't any scientific fact to base their aphrodisiac effects. I'd imagine Aphrodite baking a pear and hazelnut tart if she were human. Try making this tart for your darling with the zest of love in your heart.

Next time I'll use apricot jam and more pears.