The circle drive in my neighborhood looked like someone had found buried treasure and was tossing gold coins in the air this weekend. In reality, it was the small stand of birch trees that was shedding its leaves. The sun, the wind, the fall, all combined to make it look like a pirate party.
Each day of this fall seems more spectacular than the last. We’ve been blessed with flaming red maples that literally glow when the setting sun sets them ablaze in late afternoon. Lake Erie, one day a muddy mess of rolling whitecaps, then turns perfectly calm, allowing me to kayak on a November morning.
Mother Nature provided an escape from the ill winds that have been blowing steadily during this election season. Oh how easy it is to turn off the television or put aside the newspaper when the sky is blue and the outdoors promise one more beautiful walk. The dry crunch of the leaves soothe my nerves made raw by the shrill comments from media and politicians.
There’s nothing like coming home again to smell a house that is alive with cinnamon, cardamom and star anise, which is what was bubbling on my stovetop this weekend. It’s a delicious combination with which to poach pears.
Pears – yes I’ve heard the comments. Lots of people don’t care for the texture, which can alternately be mealy or too firm. And poached pears? As a kid, poached pears did not count as dessert. Indeed, I preferred to skip it altogether.
I still don’t get excited by a poached pear alone on a dish at the conclusion of my meal. If it is atop of a perfect creme Anglaise. Creme Anglaise is a fancy custard – basically eggs, cream, sugar, and vanilla (think really good melted French vanilla ice cream).
So what if the poached pear could go to the next level? Combine the poached pears with an almond cream, and a pastry. Pears and almonds complement each other perfectly (although you could make a plain pastry cream for those with nut allergies). Adding the pastry – in this case purchased puff pastry – adds a little crunch for a delightful textural component.
A tip about puff pastry. Traditionally, it is made with butter. This, however, is not the key ingredient in Pepperidge Farms’ puff pastry. A taste test by Serious Eats found that Pepperidge Farms works just fine if as a base for other ingredients. Dufour is the preferred puff pastry for serious enthusiasts, but you would have to mail order it. I used Wegmans’ brand, which listed butter in the ingredients. I found it a little thicker than Pepperidge Farms. It is a little pricier than PR brand, but about half that of Dufour.
There are four basic steps here. None are particularly difficult. Poaching the pears is just a matter of peeling them and then using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds. That’s the hard part. Making the almond cream, or Creme D’amandes, is no harder than mixing cake batter. The puff pastry must be defrosted, and then you need to cut either 2 circles or into smaller circles if you are making individual tarts. Finally, you brush a little apricot jam on when the tart comes out of the oven to make it shiny and pretty.
When you finished, you will feel like you have just walked out of a fine French boulangerie.