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For the love of pears

23 Oct

We love pears.  I was looking for an easy pear tart recipe and came across this one on epicurious.  Few ingredients, tout simple, and it cooks while you are eating dinner, so it’s perfect for guests.

For dinner timing – make the dough during a lull period, even the day before and leave it to rest in the refrigerator.  You can roll the dough out to the right size AHEAD of time if you like, dust it with flour, put it between two sheet of parchment paper and stick the whole thing in the fridge.  Much easier to deal with at the final moment.  You’ll want to start the pears 20-25 minutes before dinner service and then you can just pop the whole thing in the oven just before you sit down.

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:  Cast iron skillet or other all-metal skillet that can go into the oven.

Here is the link for the original recipe for Carmelized Upside Down Pear Tart.

The pastry recipe is listed separately on epicurious as “Pastry Dough“.  Very elegant, I think.

Pastry Dough:

  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 3/4 stick (6 T. or 3/8 cup) cold unsalted butter
  • 2 T (1/8 cup) vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 to 4 T ice water

Blend the flour, butter, shortening and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal with some small butter lumps.  If you have naturally warm hands, you should use a food processor or pastry blender.

Drizzle 2 T ice water over and gently stir until incorporated.  Squeeze a small handful to see if it holds together, if not add more ice water, just a bit at a time until it does hold.  Do not overwork.

The recipe calls for working the fat into the dough by smearing on the counter.  I didn’t bother doing that.  I’ve been working with pastry dough long enough to know when it’s just right.

Flatten to 5″ disk and refrigerate at least 1 hour OR just go ahead and quickly work it into a circle big enough for your skillet and refrigerate between two layers of parchment.


  • 4 firm-ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425F.

Heat butter in a 9-10 inch oven-safe skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides.  Stir in sugar (it will not dissolve and it will be lumpy and look like the proportions are wrong).  Add pears, cut sides up, in a circle with wide ends toward the edge of the skillet.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and cook, undisturbed, until the sugar begins to caramelize.  Note the recipe says ‘deep golden caramel’, but reading the reviews some people said it got very burned in the oven, so I tested the caramel with a spoon – when just barely starting to turn, but clearly in a caramel form (smell and taste), I moved on to the next step.  Be careful tasting caramel – it’s smoking hot and will burn you!

I did not cool the pears in the skillet as the recipe said.  I just draped the pastry over the hot pairs and popped it straight into a preheated oven.  Baked 30 minutes and it was perfect.

Cool 5 minutes on a trivet, then, using two pot holders, put a plate over the skillet and invert it QUICKLY so the caramel doesn’t ooze out everywhere – including on you, because you can easily get burned.  Let it cool just a minute before serving.  Yummy!

Planned Over Baking – Bebop-a-Rebop Rhubarb Pie

30 May

I got this Rhubarb Pie recipe from Saveur.  I used Jeanne’s Pie Crust in this recipe, which meant my filling ingredients were:

  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Combine the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.  Add the egg mixture to the sugar and then stir in the rhubarb.

I used frozen rhubarb this time, because I got some on sale.  As usual, I made two 7″ pies and I found that there was a bit too much filling for the two pies, so I put in all of the rhubarb and just added as much of the egg mixture as would fit.  I baked one at 350F for about 45 minutes (keep in mind this was a 7″ pie) and I froze one unbaked.  This filling is a little bit tart, so make sure to buy some ice cream, too!

Planned Over Baking – Berry Pie

23 May

So why does pie count as a Planned Over?  Like most busy people, I’m not standing around in my kitchen making pie every day.  I have learned that many baked goods tolerate being frozen unbaked, and then baked without defrosting.  Pie is one of these things.  So if you’re taking the time to make pie, make two and put one in the freezer for another time.

Here is another favorite pie trick.  A 10″ pie recipe will make about the right amount of filling for two 7″ pies.  And really, it’s close enough with a 9-9.5″ pie recipe as well.  A 7″ pie will give me 4-5 slices.  For the two of us, that’s dessert plus two servings of pie to enjoy as Loved Overs.  If I have another couple over for dinner, it’s enough pie for four.  At Thanksgiving, it’s not such a huge pie commitment that I can have a few different varieties and I can make them ahead, so why not?

When I am ready to bake, I put the whole 7″ pie, still frozen, straight into a 350F oven.  I have never had a problem with doing it this way.  I don’t think I would try it in a ceramic pie plate though.

Where to get 7″ pie plates?, where else?  The pie plates at this link are a bit more than I would like to pay.  I bought my 7″ pans at Sur la Table, and I can’t imagine that I paid more than $5 each, because I own several of them.  Of course, if you are feeding a crowd, just make a full size pie.  You can still make two (or more!) and freeze the extras unbaked.

Berry Pie

For the berries, use what you can get.  I show blackberries in the photo above.  I used frozen berries in this case, which is why the filling looks so juicy.  It would look less juicy if you used fresh berries, but they will release their juice in the oven.  One of my husband’s favorite combinations is cranberry and blackberry.  In this case, I would use the full amount of sugar.  My husband also likes the frozen mixed berries in a pie.  I often buy frozen berries on sale to have on hand for when the pie-baking mood strikes.  Berry pies benefit from a squeeze of lemon if the berries are very sweet.  Sometimes I put a pat of butter on top of the berries before I seal the crust.

  • Jeanne’s Pie Crust
  • 1 c. sugar (can use up to 1 1/4 cups, but I usually like it less sweet)
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 4 c. berries (approximately two bags of frozen)

Roll out the pie crust to fit the pie pan, top and bottom.  Mix sugar, flour and berries in a bowl and fill pie.  Top with a layer of crust, seal edges, and cut to vent.  Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or Bake at 375F.  Makes two 7″ pies or one 9″ pie. 

Warm pie is wonderful, but fruit pies benefit from being baked several hours in advance so the filling sets up.

Planned Over Baking – OR – What My Mother-in-Law Taught Me About Pie

22 May

My mother-in-law, Jeanne, not only raised a wonderful husband for me to enjoy, but also is a fantastic old-fashioned cook. Christmas at my mother-in-law’s house is standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, roast beef pan gravy so dark and rich you can feel your arteries clogging just from smelling it, and pie. She’s a wonderful baker all around, really: Danish rings that take up half of the table, big soft ginger cookies, French Canadian raisin-filled wedding cookies that I call ‘hand pies’ because they are enormous. She has a special gift for pie, though. She makes a thick, flaky crust so perfectly that for years I never even tried to make pie. I took baking classes at culinary school and I fully understood the simple mechanics and chemistry of pie making, but I still never bothered trying. Why should I? It could never be as good as Jeanne’s! We just ate pie a couple of times a year when we visited her and left it at that.

My own mother does not enjoy making pie. She is an amazing hostess who will put herself out to make you feel welcomed and appreciated, but she doesn’t love cooking. She does it and does it well, but it just isn’t her thing. From my mother, I am told, I inherited a love not of cooking, but of bringing people together and making them feel special. It works out fine because my father and I both love to cook and my younger nephew is coming along. My mother bakes cookies with her grandsons and now with her great-grandson because she loves spending time with them, but unlike me, she isn’t running around looking for excuses to bake.

My father’s family has some amazing pie-bakers (and bakers in general). My dad is full of stories of pie that his grandmother made or that his Aunt Edie baked in her farm kitchen. The only thing that kept me from eating every single fresh raspberry on the vine in my Aunt Lois’s yard when we visited one August was the promise of her raspberry pie. My cousin Elizabeth, one of Lois’s daughters, posts her baking exploits on Facebook, as do I, and it’s good to see the legacy of dough enthusiasts creating yummy things for our families.

But back to my mother-in-law. It is getting harder for her to do the things she loved to do for us, like make pie, so I’ve picked up the habit. Like most things, I’ve gotten better with practice. I was honored a bit over a year ago when she asked me (ME!) if I would make the pie crusts for her that year.

When I am making pie, I always think of the expression: Pie crust promises are easily made and easily broken. I think pie crust IS easily made if you follow a few simple rules. Here are a few things I learned about pie crust, not in culinary school, but from my wonderful mother-in-law.

  1. It’s okay to make the dough in the food processor. Martha Stewart does. Mind you, this is Jeanne’s reasoning. I’m not saying that Martha Stewart is the final authority on pie.
  2. Process half of the butter/shortening to a ‘meal’ and then add the other half to ‘pea-sized’. From a baking chemistry standpoint, this makes sense – those pea-sized pieces of fat are going to give a really nice lift to the crust and keep it very flaky.
  3. Don’t worry if you break the pie crust. Patch it and keep moving. Especially on the bottom, no one will see. In other words, calm down!
  4. Keep everything VERY VERY COLD! My mother-in-law lives in South Florida and until recently did not have air conditioning, so this was extra important.
  5. You can measure shortening using water displacement instead of trying to mash it into a dry measure cup. Put a cup of water in a 2 cup glass measuring cup and add enough shortening to reach the level you want (in other words, when the water reads 1.5 cups with the shortening submerged, you know you have ½ cup of shortening). And you thought there was no point to learning about displacement.
  6. It’s pie. It doesn’t have to be perfect. That is true. I could put the whole pie in a blender and all my husband would want to know is if there was ice cream to go on it.
  7. Everyone wants pie. A while back, I couldn’t find my vegetable peeler and borrowed one from a neighbor. His Facebook post the next day said something like: I loaned my neighbor a vegetable peeler and she brought me a pie. I’m wondering what else I have that she might want to borrow.

Jeanne’s Pie Crust

  • 2 2/3 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c. butter (or half butter / half shortening), COLD, cut into chunks
  • 7-8 T. ice water (scant 1/2 cup)

Pulse flour and salt plus half of the butter in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the remainder of the butter and process on bursts until the fat is in small pea-sized pieces. Add half of the ice water and pulse a few times. Add enough of the remaining water to form a soft, but not sticky dough. Knead a bit and then use immediately or refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Pie should not be intimidating. If you’ve never tried pie-baking, just set a simple rule. Anyone who mocks my pie will not be permitted to have any, not now and not in the future when I get really good at this. Practice will make perfect!

I will be posting more on Planned Over Pie in the next couple of days – just in time for Memorial Day!

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