A quick bit of research might tell you that a firm, fresh Anjou or an elegant Bosc is the best kind of pear for baking. I’ve no doubt that they would be, but they can be a little hard to come by here in my side of the world. However, we do have a steady supply of Asian pears, so this became the weekend baking project of the last weekend.
Asian pears are the crunchiest of all pears and because of this they’re great eaten raw; sliced or diced right into some lovely, refreshing salads where their crispness can be enjoyed. That’s probably also why there aren’t a whole lot of pie or tart recipes using Asian pear – you want your fruit to be firm, but not too firm or they might not cook down too well in baked goods. Fortunately for a pre-cooker like me, this isn’t a problem. Pre-cooking your filling allows you to make sure you get the texture and flavors you want in your filling before you bake it in to your crust. And you don’t have to worry that much about your filling shrinking in the oven. For this recipe, I cooked down the pears until soft but not mushy. We still want a bit of bite for contrast.
As for the combination of Asian pears and five spice, well, it just seemed like a perfect one from the start. It was all and more than I could hope for. The five spice is strong, but it doesn’t overpower the pear. Instead, it transforms the fruit’s sweetness, from a slight, sticky kind to a deeper and fuller taste. And the walnut custard provides a nutty creaminess that holds the whole thing together.
For the crust:
1 cup + 3 tbsp flour
6 1/3 tbsp/90g/3oz unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the pear filling:
3 Asian pears, sliced
1 cup honey
2 tbsp Chinese five spice
For the walnut custard:
1/4 cup walnuts, ground to a paste
2/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
For the candied walnut topping:
1/2 cup walnuts, slightly crushed
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Make your crust. Preheat the oven to 410ºF/210ºC. Combine butter, oil, water, sugar and salt in oven-proof bowl. Place bowl in oven for 15 minutes or until butter is bubbling and slightly brown around the edges. Add all the flour. Stir quickly until it comes together. When the dough is cool enough for handling, transfer to a 9in/23cm tart mold. Spread evenly. Pat and press it up on sides of the tart mold with your hands (or use a fork if necessary). Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork about ten times. Bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Set aside.
Make your pear filling. Combine pear slices, honey and five spice in pan or skillet. Stir a few times. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until the pear slices have become soft and fragrant. Set aside.
Make your walnut custard. Whisk together walnut paste, cream, eggs and sugar until well-combined. Mixture will be slightly thick. Set aside.
Make your candied walnuts. Combine walnuts, sugar and salt in your pan or skillet. Cook over a medium heat. Stir continuously to avoid burning the sugar and to make sure that all walnuts have a coating of sugar. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Assemble your tart. Place spiced pear slices onto your pre-baked crust. Be sure to leave enough space for the custard. Pour mixture over the over the fruit until the custard comes just to the top of the pan. Pour slowly so as not to overfill. Return the tart to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the filling has set and the top is brown. Sprinkle more candied walnuts on top. Let the tart cool. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Have a slice. With more of your candied walnuts or even a bit of cream. It’s also lovely with your favorite cup of tea.