Just say yes
December 11, 2008
You know how you’re meant to lose your sweet tooth as you grow up? Where once you would save a pocketful of pennies to buy sickly gobstoppers that change colour as you suck them, or sherbet fountains with a stick of licorice in them, how you move on as an adult, to Camembert and Stilton and – and Stinking Bishop?
Back then your six year-old self would go for for raspberry jam, or golden syrup, or maybe even condensed milk to top your white sliced sandwich. But now, maturer, wiser, a little more boring perhaps, now you don’t eat jam, white bread or butter, at all. It’s all grilled Halloumi and asparagus.
Now you have a grown-up job and you go to grown-up places like bars and you eat grown-up savoury things, right?
Well no, actually. Forget all that. It’s all a load of peppermint humbugs.
Deep down in every grown-up stomach an ever-ravenous inner child still cries out for strawberry sponge and Mars bars and chocolate biscuits. Yes you can ignore him/her for a lot of the time, but really, now in the lead-up to the biggest gorge-fest of the year, why should you?
OK, I think I’ve made my point pretty strongly here. You’ve got it, right? For today, we are going to indulge that six year-old. Today is calorific freedom day.
Today boring things like waistlines are well hidden with saggy jumpers and we can get down to more important matters. Today we can properly appreciate this goddess of the kitchen, this – um – masterpiece? success? excess? Excess, I think, is the best choice of a word here. It’s a pretty apposite description of this baby.
At every bend of today’s culinary road when a choice is needed – should it be richer or less rich? – should it be sweeter or less sweet? – at every one of them we are going for more. More everything.
It’s just that sort of day.
So here we have a pear tart, right? All well and good you might say. But pear tarts come in all shapes and sizes. Some are sedate on a bed of flaky pastry and some soar on puff. In some, pear halves (stalks included) are mulled in red wine before baking, or sometimes in a syrup with vanilla and lemon (And yes that last one is a good one, I have to say. But no, I didn’t do it today. It wasn’t quite sweet enough).
Some lie on a bed of rich custard and some are served with cream, or creme anglaise, or even chocolate sauce.
All are wonderful.
But for today, I wanted saute-ed pears, I knew that. Because? Well because I have a thing for them at the moment. (They are extremely good with ice-cream. Just them, vanilla ice, that’s it. Maybe a shot of calvados poured lovingly over the top. ) So they had to go in.
Then there was the almond thing. Pears and almonds are a match made in heaven, up there with chocolate sauce and ice-cream. I think on that we can all agree. So there was no question about the almonds.
But marzipan…marzipan is more difficult, a more complex question. It elicits such a mixed response. So many of our marzipanal memories are dull or dire; of wedding cakes so heavy you just have to slip them behind a potted plant when no-one is looking and walk away with nonchalance.
And yet, marzipan can be so very good. Marzipan smoothed out with cream and thinly spread, as it is in this recipe, is something different. Rich, yes. But a richness that you will know is unquestionably right.
So today, whenever I say, ‘More of this?’ – the answer is always, ‘Yes’.
‘Of course, Stephen.’
‘Another slice of home-made pear and almond tart?’
‘Oh. I really shouldn’t. Well go on then, just a small one…No not that small.’
Pear and Almond Tart
(makes a baking tray’s worth)
4 firm pears, peeled, cut into quarters lengthwise, and cored.
(I used conference pears. Unripe is good)
40-60g caster sugar
150g white marzipan, cut into chunks
3-4 tbs double cream
500g puff pastry
20g flaked almonds
Set the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. (‘Yes Stephen!’)
In a large pan melt the butter and saute the pears gently for about 5 minutes. Pour on the sugar and cook them for another 5 minutes, turning occasionally. They will gradually take on a quite delicious warm brown colour with darker patches where they’ve charred slightly. You may want to do them in 2 batches, as I did.
Lift the pears on to a plate to cool, leaving behind excess sugary goo.
Whizz up the marzipan with the cream.
Roll out the pastry pretty thinly, about a third of a centimetre thick maybe, and lay it out on an oven dish. Now spread it with the marzipan cream. Cover that with the pears, as prettily arranged as you can manage.
Shall we now sprinkle our tart with a little icing sugar? Why, yes!
And then a scattering of flaked almonds? Of course!
Then pop the tart in the oven for 20 minutes. When you take it out it will be golden, crisp at the edges and you can dust with more icing sugar if you like. And of course you will like.
You can serve this on its own. Or with cream. Creme fraiche would be my preference. And it’s good hot or cold.
Let out your belt a couple of notches, and enjoy.