Pear Almond Tart

So, I canned a bunch of pears back in September.  (Recipe here).  Now that it’s February it’s really sinking in how delicious they are.canned pearsOut of all my canning projects from 2013, they’re one of my favorites.  Before they were ever in jars, these pears were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Ever!  They were grown right in Redwood Valley by a lovely couple that I met at the farmers market a few years ago.  (They’re basically the embodiment of the kind of fruit I want to be preserving all the time). A lot of the time we just eat them out of the jar, but I needed to take a dessert to a friend’s house yesterday and whipped together this tart with some of them.  An almond crust combined with sliced canned pears and a rich vanilla custard (with eggs from our chickens!) made for a really lovely tart that tastes delicate and luxurious at the same time. pear almond tartThis recipe is a combination of a couple recipes: the crust is an adaptation from Deborah Madison’s nut crust in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, p. 695 and the filling is based off of this pear tart recipe from Williams Sonoma. 

PEAR ALMOND TART

Cook Time: 1 hr.

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 tbs. sugar
  • 5 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. water

For the Filling:

  • approximately 6 canned pear halves
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 3 tbs. flour
  • 2 tbs. butter, melted

Combine the almonds, flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Cut in the butter with a fork. Add 2 tbs. of water and use your hands to form the dough into a ball.   Press the dough into a 9″ tart pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put the crust into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up, and then bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs until they’re frothy.  Add in the sugar,  lemon zest, vanilla, heavy cream, flour and butter.  Mix to combine everything thoroughly.  Slice the pear halves into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Depending on the size of your pears, you may need slightly more or less to cover the tart shell with a layer of pears.)

After the crust has cooked for ten minutes, take it out of the oven.  Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Arrange the pear slices to make an even layer covering the crust.  Pour the custard mixture over the top of the pears.  Put the tart in the back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the filling is set and golden brown.

Note:  I served this tart after it had fully cooled. I’m not sure how it would be still hot;  I think the custard sets a bit while it’s cooling.

 

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Cook it! 2012: September Resolution

I adore September.

Sometimes, as a farmer, summer can feel intimidating.  The good weather is wonderful, but those days right around the solstice are just such long marathons of work.  By September, the days have shortened to something a little bit more reasonable, the temperatures have lost some of their scalding hot edge, and, most importantly, we’re absolutely surrounded by the fruits of our labor.  In our own garden and at the farmers markets, the abundance is everywhere.  I put up food all year round, but the bulk of it is really in September, the time in my kitchen where the canner stays out 24/7.  There’s been a pot of something cooking down on the stove almost every day this week: heirloom tomato ketchup, a super sweet batch of cherry tomato-basil sauce, a batch of straight up, no-sugar added pear butter (my favorite choice for my fall pb&js).

For the September Cook it! 2012 Resolution, I wanted to pick something that would really celebrate the bounty of the harvest, emphasizing the pure, bright flavors of local fruit at its best. After much hemming and hawing, I finally settled on this project: DRY FRUIT. 

That seems anticlimactic, right?

How hard can it be to dry fruit? Does this even warrant my focus for this month?

The answer: Not hard at all, and yes, it does.

I came upon a huge amount of wonderfully sweet, juicy bartlett pears grown by one of my farmers market customers.  The pears here in Redwood Valley are truly delicious – something about them, I’m not quite sure – I think they might have slightly more acid than other pears I’ve tried, so they’re sweet, but not one-dimensional, with a little tang to them that many pears are lacking.  I really love working with them though, whether it’s canned in syrup, in jam, in a pie, in a tart, in savory fall salads, or, my latest discovery, dehydrated in the oven.

I don’t have a dehydrator because we’re off the grid and don’t have constant power, but I’ve experimented with oven-drying tomatoes in the past and loved the results.  I’m not sure why I never bothered trying it with fruit until now, but now that I’ve started doing it, it will certainly become a preserving tool that I use more often.

The exciting thing about this project is that if you’re lucky enough to run into some really great fruit, it concentrates and elevates the flavor into this perfect bite of chewy-sweet-gently-caramelized-goodness.  As wonderful as jam is, and as pretty as a jar of peaches looks on the shelf….. I really appreciate the fact that these dried pears have no added sugar.  Yes, I know you can preserve fruit in jars without any added sugar.  I would argue that dried fruit tastes much better, truer to the original fresh flavor. 

I was really excited about my oven-dried heirloom tomatoes because their flavor is so much better than any dried-tomato I’ve ever purchased at the store, and the same goes for this project.  These are the best dried pears I’ve ever had. I can’t stop eating them.  It makes sense; I’m sure the companies selling dried fruit aren’t picking out fruit that’s really this good.  Plus they treat it with weird stuff that I don’t feel like eating.

My favorite way to eat these is for breakfast, in homemade muesli.  I mix the chopped dried pears with rolled oats, toasted pecans and wheat bran, and then top with milk. It’s delicious and makes me feel like a rockstar.

Oven-Dried Pears

Cook Time: 20 minutes active, and then a super long time to wait for them to dehydrate, like 2 days long.

Makes: about 2 quarts of pears

Ingredients:

  • 20 lbs. pears
  • 16 ounces lemon juice (I use Santa Cruz Organics bottled lemon juice this time of year).

Wash the pears.  Fill a nonreactive pot with some water (about… 8 cups? I didn’t measure) and add the lemon juice.  Slice them in half and scoop out the cores with a spoon.  As you core each pear, put it into the pot with the lemon juice.  Once the pears are all prepped and treated in the lemon juice bath, lay them in rows on casserole dishes or cookie sheets, skin side down.  Put the pears in the oven on the lowest setting available (it varies from oven to oven).  Now wait.  It took almost 48 hours for mine to start looking like dried pears I’ve gotten at the store.   When the pears have first started in the oven, you can kind of put them in there and then just forget about them.  When they start getting drier, you’ll want to peek in the oven more often.  They may not all dry at once – I’ll start picking them off one by one if I see that a couple are getting dry before the rest.

I left a fair amount of moisture in my pears (you know how different brands of dried fruit will have different amounts of moisture? some brands seem a little bit juicier? I like the juicy ones.  I’m not sure how shelf-stable they are in the pantry, but I prefer the flavor).  So basically, dry them until you’re happy with the texture.  If they’re super dry, I’m certain you can just stick them in a jar in the pantry, unrefrigerated.  If you leave a little bit of moisture in them,  you may want to put the jar in the fridge to make sure it doesn’t eventually mold (or store them in the freezer and pull them out in small amounts).

I’m storing my pears at room temperature now, in glass mason jars in the pantry. I have no idea if they’re shelf-stable for the long term or not, but I’ll come back and update here.  So far I’ve been eating them every day and they’re fine (and it’s been about a week).

P.S.: Don’t be put off by the brownish color.  They taste amazing.

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To be included in the dried fruit round-up, send me an e-mail with the link to your post by October 15, 2012.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.  I’d love to hear how you use up your dried fruit, but also where the produce came from, since it’s such a big part of doing this project successfully.  Your local farmers market? The own tree? I wanna know.
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Pome Honey

I’ve written three different introductions to this recipe now, trying to think of a witty way of saying that this is an adaptation of a recipe from Paula Deen.  I can’t think of anything.  Really, I’m embarrassed to say that I like one of her recipes.  I want to be cool like Anthony Bourdain and just sit around smoking cigarettes,* eating pork and drinking cocktails, but that’s not happening today.  I should thank one of my old friends for turning me on to this preserve.  She’s an amazingly sweet southern girl that should have her own cooking show, and when she gave me a jar of pear honey as a gift a few years ago, it pretty much blew my mind.  It was one of the most delicious canned goods I’ve ever tried. I distinctly remember my friend looking me in the eyes and saying “Don’t tell anyone the recipe!” and I realize that what I’m doing right now is literally the exact opposite of that.  I’m kind of a big mouth when it comes to recipes.

Now, I’m never one to stick to an ingredient list, and I had some quince that were sitting around looking all pretty, so instead of pear honey, I made pome honey.  It’s a delightfully rosy mixture of bosc pears and quince that tastes sweet and juicy out of the jar.  The term “honey” is a reference to the bright flavor and has nothing to do with the ingredients list.  (The original, pear-only recipe tastes a bit more like honey than my version).

I have to fess up, though.  There’s also a secret ingredient:Canned Crushed Pineapple.  Classy, I know.  The thing is, this recipe is so delicious that I always break my rules about local, seasonal fruit and make a big batch once a year.  The canned pineapple actually kind of hides in the background and is hard to recognize behind the pears. I could definitely make this preserve a little bit less questionable and just use fresh pineapple instead of canned, but they don’t have fresh local pineapples where I live, so my rules are already broken (…although, if you live somewhere where there are fresh local pineapples, I would definitely pick those over the canned stuff.)Pome Honey

Cooking Time: about 1 1/2 hrs.

Makes: 12-16 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 8 c. peeled, cored, chopped pears
  • 8 c. grated fresh quince (I leave the skins on, but make sure not to use the core or the stem)
  • 1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in pineapple juice (make sure to check that it is not canned in high fructose corn syrup. That’s slumming it a little bit too much.)
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 10 c. sugar

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water.  Sterilize jars and lids using whatever method you prefer (I put my jars on a cookie sheet in the oven, 20 minutes at 200 degrees.)

Combine all of the ingredients in a large, nonreactive pot. Cook on medium heat until everything has thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  At this point, you can either purée the fruit or leave it chunky.  I like to give it a quick spin through the blender so that there are no recognizable chunks of pineapple (shh! it’s a secret!)

Pour the hot pomes honey into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rims clean.  Screw on lids and rings and process in the boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

The finished product is perfect mixed with yogurt, on croissants, over ice cream, and especially over this chevre cheesecake.

Oh, and if you wanted to really go nuts, I’m pretty sure that if you added about 1/2 c. of cherry jam in with all the fruit while it cooks that it would taste exactly like canned fruit cocktail, but without all the high fructose corn syrup, red #5, soggy grapes, etc.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I might experiment with it on the next batch.

*not that smoking cigarettes is cool.

Chevre Cheesecake with Pear Jam

This is the dessert, right here: the cheesecake to end all cheesecakes.

Fresh ginger, vanilla and lemon zest beg to be topped with a rich autumn flavor like d’anjou pear jam (or fig jam, or quince would be nice too).

Plus it has a whole pound of goat cheese in it.

Seriously, who’s gonna argue with that?

Chevre Cheesecake

This recipe is an adaptation of this one here, from Ile France Cheese Company.

Cooking Time: 1 1/2 hrs.

Serves: 10

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 1 stick of butter (plus extra to grease the pan)
  • 1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs, see below for instructions
  • 1/2 c. confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger

For the filling:

  • 1 lb. goat cheese, at room temperature (I use Shamrock Chevre from my friend Anna)
  • 1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature, preferable from pastured chickens for the richness of the yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • zest and juice from one lemon
  • 1/2 c. pear-cardamom jam, for serving
  • 1/2 c. confectioners sugar, for serving

To make graham cracker crumbs, crush 10 graham crackers with a rolling pin or in a food processor. Melt 1 stick of butter in a medium saucepan. In a large bowl, combine butter, graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 c. confectioners sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Mix everything together thoroughly and press into the bottom of a greased 10″ spring form pan.  Put the crust in the fridge to chill while you make the filling. 

(If you have a stand-mixer, it helps with this step:)  Cream together goat cheese and cream cheese. Slowly add the sugar and eggs, alternating between the two and making sure to combine everything thoroughly. Mix until light and fluffy. Add the lemon, vanilla and ginger and mix well.

Put aluminum foil around the bottom of the pan with the crust in it and place the wrapped pan on a cookie sheet. (Don’t skip this step unless you want sugary good all over your oven that smokes for days until you clean it out. Not like I did that or anything)

Pour the cheese filling into the pan. Bake for 1 hr. When the cake is done, it will have a subtle golden color and still move very slightly in the center if you give the pan a gentle shake.

Serve topped with pear-cardamom jam and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Red D’Anjou Pear Cardamom Jam

This is one of my absolute favorite jam flavors.  Top five, for sure.  If you want to think about something other than citrus for a minute, make this! It absolutely explodes with the flavor of ripe, sweet, juicy pears.

Pear-Cardamom Jam

makes about 5 1/2 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced  (It only works when you find good pears- make sure the pears taste how you want the jam to taste; if they are grainy, too tart, or not ripe yet, don’t buy them.  I used Red D’Anjou pears from a local farm, which were in season here.  I’ve used Comice Pears in the past and they were also delicious).
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 4 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin Calcium Water, included inside the pectin box (see package for instructions)
  • 3 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin Powder (I used commercial pectin to shorten the cooking time and retain the intense pear flavor).

1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Put lids in a small bowl and cover with some boiling water from the canner. Put jars in the oven on low so they are hot when you put hot jam into them later.  In a small bowl, whisk the 4 tsp. of pectin powder with 1/2 c. sugar and set aside.

2. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine pears, lemon juice, cardamom, calcium water, and 1 1/2. cups of sugar.  On medium-high heat, bring to a full rolling boil.  Pour in the pectin/sugar mixture, and bring back to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars.  Wipe the jar rims clean, and screw on the lids. Process half-pint jars for 10 minutes to get a good seal.

Recipe Ideas:

This is a strong candidate for The Jar That Actually Goes On Toast In The Morning…. but if you don’t want to go that route, don’t forget how delicious pears are with almonds- there are all kinds of tart and cookie possibilities here! This is also one of the jams that I serve on a chevre-ginger cheesecake that I make really often- I would highly suggest the idea of any type of cheesecake with this jam on top.