This past fall, during the peak of pear season, I received some juicy, ripe pears from my co-worker, Jean. Apparently, she had an excessive abundance and was running out of ideas for using them up. I remembered seeing various recipes for a pear and almond tart over the years and decided to attempt it. The results were okay, but not great (through no fault of the poor pears, it was my haste in trying to cook quickly before going to visit my sister in D.C.). Since my first try, I’ve refined my technique, relying on canned pears.

The tart you see above is from Christmas Eve. My sister, Manda, is the photographer. This particular attempt used a new kind of tart crust–one that uses melted butter–and turned out the best yet. The trick is adding both vanilla and almond extract, as well as either applejack or pear brandy. Since I’m more likely to have applejack (a.k.a. Calvaldos or apple brandy), that’s what I’ve used almost every time.

While the poached pears were by far the best (and you could use the poaching liquid in a festive beverage), I’ll probably use canned pears 95% of the time. They’re easy, fast, available, and cheap. I buy pear halves in light syrup because the larger pieces hold up better, and light pears usually don’t havehigh frutose corn syrup. I would suggest making the filling first, waiting an hour or so, and then cooking the tart shell, so that by the time the shell is coming out of the oven you can just scrape the filling into the shell and pop it back in the oven.

Pear Almond Tart

1 pre-baked tart shell (see recipe below)
1 large can of pears in light syrup, drained (29 ounces)
5.5 ounces ground almonds*
3 tbs flour
6 tbs butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 tbs apple brandy
pinch salt

If using whole almonds, finely grind the almonds and flour in a food processor. Stir the flour/almond mixture, sugar, extracts, apple brandy and butter together in a clean bowl. Mix in the egg and pinch of salt. Cover and stash in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Dump the almond filling into the crust and spread evenly. Take each drained pear and slice into fans (see the picture above to see an example of what I mean). Gently press each pear into the filling in a circular pattern, using a little pressure to spread each pear out so that the overlapping pieces cover most of the tart.

Bake the tart at 350 F until it’s an even golden brown, about 50 minutes. Put the tart on a cooling rack to cool before serving. Push up on the bottom of the tart pan to release the tart. I’ve never seen this tart last more than a day, but it will probably keep for a day or two.

Tart Shell**

8 tbs unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix together the butter, salt, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the flour until it’s completely mixed in. The dough will be very soft. Press the dough into the tart pan all the way up the sides. You want it to be as thin and even as possible. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until deeply golden brown.

*Notes on Almonds
Use unsalted almonds. I usually use whole, raw almonds or almond flour, which can be purchased at more and more grocery stores, often in the baking or gluten-free section. If you use whole almonds 5.5 ounces is about 1 cup. If you use almond flour, just skip the step to grind the almonds with the flour and proceed with the recipe. Almond flour is more compact than whole almonds, so you’ll only need about 3/4 cup to equal the same weight.

**Tart shell adapted from Alice Medrich’s bittersweet.