Who doesn’t crave a show-stopping dessert, let alone a delicious read? There are stories to delight and plenty more recipes where this came from in Anne Willan’s memoir, One Souffle at a Time, A Memoir of Food and France. If you have a food lover on your Christmas shopping list, THIS is the gift! To get you started, you may have Anne’s recipe for her buttery Chocolate Pear Tart.
You DO know Anne Willan, right? Founder of the prestigious Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, which operated in Burgundy, France from 1991 until 2007. Author of dozens and dozens of popular cookbooks. Whenever you hear of her, it is often in the context of her culinary peer Julia Child (note that Anne is a whole lot younger, however).
Well now, her lovely memoir has been published. Curl up with it in front of the fireplace, you won’t put it down. Or bring on an airplane, the flight will go by quickly.
To give some local friends a chance to chat with Anne and have their copy autographed, we held a book signing (“we” meaning the party was compliments of Denise Vivaldo and Cindie Flannigan of the Denise Vivaldo Group. I provided the house, dusted it and stayed out of the way. Until it was time to jump into a photo with Anne, true to my style.)
That’s a lot of name dropping, so, on to dessert! Click on the book cover, below, to order it from Amazon. HURRY.
From Anne’s recipe headnotes: “This pear tart has a secret filling, a simple sprinkling of chopped chocolate which dissolves in the juice from the cooked pears to form a creamy sauce. Easy when you know how but it took half a dozen tests to get it right! The best pears for this tart are juicy Comice when you can find them, or else ripe Bartletts.”
CHOCOLATE PEAR TART from One Souffle At A Time, A Memoir by Anne Willan and Amy Friedman
- 4 oz/110 g dark chocolate
- 3-4 pears
For the pâte sucrée dough
- 1 2/3 cups/200 g flour
- 1/2 cup/100 g sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- Pinch of salt
- 6 tablespoons/90 g butter, more for the pan
For the topping
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup/175 ml heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon sugar, for sprinkling
9-10-inch/23-25-cm tart pan with removable base (note: the photo shows a portion of a half-sheet rectangular tart because Denise and Cindie made a larger batch for the book signing party)
1. Make the pâte sucrée dough: sift the flour onto a work surface and sweep a wide well with your fingertips. Put the sugar, egg yolks and salt in the well. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it, add it to the other ingredients and work with the fingers of one hand until thoroughly mixed. Using a pastry scraper, gradually draw in the flour from the sides of the well and continue working with both hands until coarse crumbs form; they should be soft but not sticky. Gently press the crumbs into a ball; the dough will be uneven and unblended at this point. To blend the dough, set it on a floured surface and with the heel of your hand, flatten and push the dough away from you. Gather it up, press it into a rough ball, and flatten it again. Continue until the dough is as pliable as putty and pulls away from the surface in one piece, 1-2 minutes. Shape it into a ball, wrap and chill it until firm 15-30 minutes.
2. Roll out the dough to a round 2 inches/5 cm larger than the tart pan. Lift the dough around the rolling pin and lower it into the pan, pressing it into the sides of the pan and draping the edges over the rim. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to cut the dough edge neatly, then flute it with your fingers. Chill the tart shell until very firm, about 15 minutes. Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C and set a baking sheet low down.
3. With a large knife, chop the chocolate into very small chunks. Spread the chocolate in the tart shell. Peel and halve the pears and scoop out the cores and fibrous stems using a melon baller or the point of a paring knife. Set the pear halves cut side down on a cutting board and cut them very thinly crosswise without separating the slices. Gently flatten the slices to make elongated ovals that keep the shape of the pear half. Still keeping the slices together, lift them on the flat of the knife and arrange the halves, stem end inward, on the chocolate layer in a circle like the petals of a flower. In a bowl whisk the egg, egg yolk, cream and vanilla to make a custard. Spoon it over the pear halves so they are lightly coated.
4. Bake the tart on the hot baking sheet for 10 minutes. Lower the oven heat to 350°F/180°C and continue baking until the pastry is brown and the pears are tender, 25-35 minutes longer. The tart should be shrinking from the sides of the pan. If the tart is done but not browned on top, brown it briefly under the broiler to highlight the scalloped pattern of the fruit slices. (You may need to shield the pastry edge of the tart with a strip of foil.) Serve the tart at room temperature.