Every month or so my brother, sister-in-law and I have lunch at my favourite café. It’s usually a Friday and we chat and laugh and eat for hours, only leaving when we need to collect the kids from school.
My brother is a funny fellow, he will have the exact same thing for lunch every single visit. My sister-in-law and I however try something new every time. Sometimes we order a couple of desserts to share, so we can both sample the delicious menu.
On one visit we tried the famous pear tarte Tatin, and it was superb! It was served with a side of vanilla anglaise and honestly, melt in your mouth goodness. Although I have a sweet tooth I get most excited about the main meal when I dine out, I am very fussy when it comes to dessert. I will only eat cake if it is really good cake, I won’t waste sugar points on average sponge or dry muffins. This dish left such an impression that I did the unthinkable, I ordered it again at the next visit. Then, I promptly thought about trying to make it myself.
Initially I was going to attempt to make individuals but decided I needed to photograph my most recent addition to my photo props, a vintage cake cooling rack. Isn’t she a beauty? I only picked her up this morning and she was eager to come out and play.
The only thing I would do differently next time is leave the tart in the oven for a little longer. My oven is unpredictable (since the door fell off and I stuck it back on, I suppose some heat escapes) so I have to pretty much guess baking duration. I imagine in a normal working oven this tart would be well baked in 25-30 minutes.
I am not a fan of aniseed or anything licorice flavoured so I almost omitted the star anise from this recipe, however I’m glad I didn’t. The very subtle aniseed taste truly compliments the baked pear and gives the buttery flavour of the sauce real edge. On second taste I decided it was in fact my favourite part of this dish.
Ingredients (serves 8):
6 ripe pears, cored, peeled and halved
100g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
1 star anise
1 cardamom pod
2 sheets of puff pastry
Preheat oven to 190oC.
Scatter sugar over the base of a 20cm cast-iron ovenproof frying pan and place on medium heat. Toss the pan as the sugar starts to caramelise, swirling the sugar to ensure it caramelises evenly. Add butter, cinnamon, vanilla bean, star anise and cardamom and continue to swirl the pan as the caramel starts to foam up. The sugar should caramelise to a toffee colour.
Lay the pear halves in the pan and cook in the sauce for about 15 minutes. The sauce will bubble but won’t burn, swirl sauce in the pan occasionally. Once pears have caramelised to a nice golden colour, remove pan from heat.
Cut pastry sheet to make a circle slightly bigger than the pan. Once the pears have slightly cooled, position them in the pan in a decorative pattern, flat sides up so that when you invert the tart the rounded sides will be on top. Drape pastry sheet over the top of the pan, covering the pears. Gently tuck the edges of the pastry down the inside of the pan and under the pears, I use a big plastic spoon to ensure the pastry tucks right under. I used a second sheet of pastry to fill in any gaps around the outside (as it comes in squares and obviously the pan is round). Next time I will attempt to make my own puff pastry, but for this one I used store bought sheets.
Pierce the pastry a few times with a fork, then place pan in oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes. If you prefer the pastry to be crispy around the edges and not soggy, remove pan from the oven about halfway and tip some of the sauce out. Be careful as the pan handle will be scorching hot as will the sauce.
Once golden in colour and pastry is cooked to crisp perfection, remove pan from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Gently invert tart onto a serving plate. Add a dollop of ice cream or crème fraiche to your plate and wait for the merrymaking to take place on your taste buds!