Just Dessert

Poached Pear Tarte Tatin – In Miniature

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This post is for everyone who has done a google search for "poached pears" and ended up on my site.  I know the search brings them to this post, which I did back in February of this year for a pre-Valentine's day series of recipes for meals and desserts.  I thought maybe it'd be nice to add another recipe featuring poached pears to the site, and so this is what I came up with.

Tarte tatin is traditionally made with apples.  You cut your peeled and cored apples (Granny Smiths are perfect for this) into wedges and place them in a mixture of melted sugar and butter in an oven-safe pan.  It's nice to arrange the apple pieces in some sort of pattern.  You then cook the whole thing until the sugar is a lovely caramel color and the apples are starting to soften and release their juices and blend together with the caramel.  Meanwhile, you preheat your oven to about 450 degrees F and cut out a circle of either puff pastry dough or regular pie dough.  Puff pastry dough is more dramatic and impressive, but I believe regular pie or tart dough is more traditional.  Either way, you want the circle of dough to perfectly fit the pan you're cooking your apples in.  Once the sugar is a nice dark gold color, you place your circle of dough on top of the apples and pop the whole thing in the oven.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and puffed up nicely (if it's puff pastry dough you've used).  Remove from the oven, let it sit for about 10 minutes to set, and then invert onto a plate.  (That's the exciting part.  One of those "no guts, no glory" moments in life.)  Admire your creation for a minute or two, then cut into wedges and serve as-is or with some vanilla ice cream (the contrast between hot and cold, crispy pastry and creamy ice cream and lush apples is exquisite, by the way).

Simple enough, right?

Well, since I've had so many people looking for poached pear ideas, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate that into a tarte tatin.  And while I was at it, I thought miniature tarte tatins would be fun to do. 

So here's what I did.

I had bought 6 small pears earlier in the week for this dessert.  You want to look for pears (or other fruit – apricots, peaches, plums) that are firm – maybe a shade underripe even – and free of bruises or blemishes.  They'll soften as they poach, so you don't want to start out too soft or else they'll just turn to mush. 

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Yes, I know.  There are only five.  And they don't look blemish-free, do they.  Well, someone in my household ate one of them.  And they sat around for several days and ripened a bit more than I'd wanted them to.  But you know what?  I still used them. 

Before I started peeling the pears, I put together the poaching liquid.  Now, you've got a lot of leeway in poaching.  You're basically combining liquids, sugar, and maybe some spice or other flavoring agents.  Here's what I used for this batch:

2 cups red wine, 2 cups water, 2 cups white sugar, 1 orange, sliced, about 8 whole cloves.  I put everything in a wide pot and set the pot over medium heat and stir once or twice to make sure all the sugar dissolves.

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You can use other spices, vanilla, you don't have to use orange slices, you don't even have to use wine if you don't want or can't have alcohol – dark juices like pomegranate or cranberry or blueberry would work in place of the wine, if you're looking to get that pretty red color.  You also don't have to use red beverages – you can poach pears or anything else in white wine and water, or apple juice and water.  See all the freedom you have?

The main thing is to have enough liquid so your fruit can relax in the fragrant liquid without being crowded, and without sticking up out of the liquid.  To this end, you'll also need to choose a pot large enough to accommodate all the fruit and liquid.  No one likes a crowded tub.

While the poaching liquid was heating up I peeled the pears and sliced them in half, lengthwise.

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Next, I trimmed the ends – didn't want or need the stem for this dessert – and used a little melon ball tool to scoop out the seed portion of the core. 

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You can use a teaspoon or a paring knife to do this as well.

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Once they were all cut and cored, I placed all the pear halves in the poaching liquid, scooped side up.

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Do they have to be scooped side up?  Does it matter?  It depends on what your goal is in poaching the pears.  I wanted to make sure the outside part of each pear was nicely colored so that later, when sliced, there would be a pretty red band along the outer edge of each slice.  I wasn't as concerned about the inner, sliced-and-scooped side.  But if you want the entire fruit colored evenly, then you'd need to find a way to submerge the fruit – a cake pan or plate will work – it needs to be just a bit smaller than the diameter of your pot. 

Okay.  So I simmered the pears for about an hour and then shut off the flame.  I didn't want to cook them too long, as they were already on the softer side of ripe, but I wanted them in the liquid long enough to soak in some color.  After I shut off the heat, I just let the pears soak in the liquid while they cooled.

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While the pears were cooling (this ends the poaching part of our story) I got going on the tarte tatin prep.

First I took out a sheet of puff pastry dough (I'd thawed it in the fridge the day before) and unfolded it, pinched the dough together along the fold lines so it wouldn't split or crack, and then rolled it out a bit so I'd have enough room for the circles I needed.

I used 4 of my 4" mini springform pans.  Why only 4 when I had 5 pears?  Because I could only get 4 circles out of the first rolling of the puff pastry and I didn't have time to thaw the other sheet.  I saved the other pear to snack on. 

Anyway, I traced the springform circle with a sharp paring knife.  With puff pastry, it's important not to compress the dough at the edges – if you want that lovely puff to occur.  If your cutting implement isn't sharp, it could either squish the edges of the dough and prevent them from rising nicely when baked or the knife edge could drag the edges of the dough – which would also result in the same thing.  Either way, your pastry won't rise as high as it would have otherwise.  Kind of like making biscuits.  Sharp and quick cutting is the way to go.

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Keep your circles of dough covered with some plastic wrap so they don't dry out while you work on the caramel, and put them in the fridge so they stay cold.

Now, like I said at the beginning of the post, usually you cook the apples or other fruit right in the sugar/butter mixture.  However, since I've already poached the pears, to cook them again would turn them to mush, and I don't want that.  Neither do you, by the way.

So I just cooked some butter and sugar together in a pan to make the caramel without the fruit.  I used a stick of unsalted butter and about a cup and a half of light brown sugar.

A couple of things about that.  First of all, I had way more than I needed.  If this happens to you, you can save the extra caramel stuff and warm it up another time to drizzle over ice cream or cheesecake or something like that. 

Second, I would suggest using white sugar instead of brown because it's far easier to guage color changes and caramelization when you're going from white to golden brown than it is when you're going from golden brown to golden brown.

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I put the butter and the sugar in a pot and set the flame to medium to melt everything.  I stirred the mixture a few times just to help move the process along and prevent burning.  Then I just let the sugar cook for a while.  If I'd been using white sugar, then it would have been easy to tell when to pull it from the stove – I'd just keep an eye on the color.  But with the light brown sugar – it really didn't look different as it cooked, so instead, I went by smell and pulled it right before it would have burned. 

The smell starts changing from a cooked sugary buttery sweetness to something bitter, and if it smells bitter, it will taste bitter, and most of the time, you don't want that.  So I just kept smelling the sugar mixture until it was just starting to change and that's when I pulled it.

But I wasn't just standing there sniffing sugar the whole time. 

I had pans and pears to prep and an oven to preheat to 450 F.  Make sure you've got a rack set in the center of the oven.

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Here are my poached pears.  Aren't they gorgeous?  They're the jewels of the fruit world, I think.

I decided to partially slice the pears, but leave them connected at the narrow end.  Then I would arrange two of them in each pan.  Kind of like a flower…or a headless baby octopus, depending on how you look at things.

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And while we're here, take a closer look at the pear – see the dark pink along the edges of each slice, and the lighter, yellowy-white pear color in the center?  That's what I was talking about before, about the color penetrating the flesh and leaving that pretty outline.

I sliced all the pears like this and then put 4 of my little springform pans on a baking sheet.

Once the sugar/butter mixture was where I wanted it, I poured some into each springform pan – not too much – just enough to cover the bottom of the pan by about a quarter to a half of an inch.

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Now – here is where I issue my warning about working with boiling hot sugar:

BE. EXTREMELY. CAREFUL. THAT. YOU. DON'T. SPLASH. ANY. ON. YOUR. SKIN.  (Or anyone else's, for that matter.)  Boiling sugar is incredibly hot (duh) and more than that, it is STICKY.  If you get some on you, it's going to grab hold and burn you as fast and as painfully as it can before you dunk your arm under cold running tap water.  It hurts, and it scars.  Got that?  You'll get a BIG BOO-BOO.  You might even cry.  Okay?  So be CAREFUL.  Okay, now back to the program.

Once you've got your caramel poured, arrange your sliced pears on top.  Poached fruit is kind of slippery and occasionally uncooperative.  But rest assured that no matter how they look, they will taste amazing.

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Next, place your puff pastry circles on top of the pears, and place your creations in the oven.

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Bake for about 25 minutes or so (start peeking at 20), or until the tops are nicely puffed and dark golden brown.  Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a rack to cool for about ten minutes before you unmold them.

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While they're cooling, you'll need to get a few things ready.  Some plates on which to serve your unmolded goodies.  Another plate to use in the flipping process.  And a camera so you can take a picture of the finished product.  It'll be so pretty, you'll want to preserve the memory.  Trust me.

Okay, here's how I unmolded these little guys.  (And, see, if it was a large, pie-sized tarte tatin, you'd have the handle of the pan, probably, to hold onto during the flipping process, but these are too small for that.  So this is what I came up with.) 

Using an oven mitt, (Remember the whole really-hot-sugar warning?  It still applies.) I placed one of the pans on an overturned plate.  Like so:

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Then you invert your serving plate on top of the springform pan.  Now with one hand on top of  everything and one hand underneath, and with the courage of your confection (sorry) filling your heart, you quickly FLIP THE WHOLE STACK RIGHT OVER and set the serving plate (which is now on the bottom) on the counter.  And you remove the other plate you'd used as a launching pad, and this is what you'll have:

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Something to keep in mind – while you're flipping the whole thing over, keep some pressure on the plate/pan/plate stack – press while you flip, in other words.  This way nothing will spill or drop or crash to the floor in the process.  Also, the tarte won't wiggle around on the plate, leaving trails of caramel in its wake.  It'll be prettier that way.

And then, with your oven mitt back on your hand, carefully lift the pan straight up and off of the little tarte tatin.

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Ta-da!  You did it!  Well, okay, I did it.  But you can, too.  Oh- and you may notice that I unmolded my least-perfectly-arranged-pears tarte first.  Just in case anything went wrong.  I did my prettier ones after this trial run.

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I also used four different styles of plates.  You don't have to do that.  I just did it for the pictures.

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Oops. 

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You can even see the darker outline from the whole poaching business, if you look closely at the pears….

Well, the next thing you need to do, of course, is taste it. 

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And since you made more than one, it's nice if you let someone else taste it, too.

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Remember?  Because it's always nice to share.   And since I'm always telling my kids that, I kind of have to abide by it myself.  Especially with desserts.

Julia wasn't home when these came out of the oven, and Bill was doing a bunch of yard work (this was Tuesday – Election Day – and schools were closed, so Bill and Alex were both home), so I summoned Alex for the initial tasting.  We went outside because the weather was so mild (for November) and I took a ton of pictures while he worked his way through dessert.

I waited while he had his first bite before asking how he liked the dessert.  As always, he thought about it carefully before giving his verdict.

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And finally he shared his thoughts.

(Nodding sagely) "…Not bad…for a good little old cooker like you…."

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Um.  Thanks, Alex.

He liked it well enough to eat all but the last bite – which, he told me, he left on purpose, so I could have some.

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And what does it taste like, you may ask?  Sweet and dark and complex and juicy and crispy.  The feel of the syrup-soaked puff pastry reminds me of biting into baklava.  But without the nuts.  It's hard to describe – it's like apple pie (or pear) elevated to a higher plane of existence.  You just have to try it yourself.  Maybe you'll come up with a better description. 

So there you go.  Give this little old recipe a try, and you, too, could be lauded as a "good little old cooker" by your family, too!  (My husband simply whimpered and moaned in amazement.  Too busy eating to use words.)

P.S.  I didn't want to fill up this post with all of the pictures, so I made a little slideshow, in case you'd like to view the entire taste-testing panoply.  See below….

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