Darkest February is that time of year when, in these parts, we burrow beneath layers of cozy blankets and like story book bears, wait - unperturbed by anything, including inclement weather, the scent of popcorn, or the fragrance of a temptingly smoked black tea - for the arrival of Spring.
I propose that rather than settling any further into bear-like hibernation, we do exactly the opposite. Let us throw off the blankets and stretch our arms wide before we head outside to breathe fresh air.
While out, we might even consider catching up with a dear friend or neighbor. A chance run-in just as one steps onto a trail in the dimly-lit woods is as good a time as any to invite that familiar face over for some tea and sweets, and very soon indeed. Science, after all approves of this type of behavior, confirming that the more social interactions we have, the happier we are as human beings.
The expectation of a casual visit is the perfect occasion for baking up something nice but not too elaborate. Some scones would be just right, a pie even more welcoming. A tart? Even better - it sounds fancier and will surely make your tea-time guest feel all the more special.
I suggest you bake this one, adapted from David Liebovitz's book, My Paris Kitchen (one of my favorites of 2014). Instead of using all-purpose flour as he does, I've gone with spelt which gives the cookie-like crust a nutty flavor and slightly sturdier texture. The crumble topping is a warm and friendly touch, making the tart American-accessible. After all, who among us of the stars-and stripes persuasion can resist a homey crumble - pear, apple, or otherwise?
I also chose pears instead of the original apricots after realizing that between the fridge in our kitchen and the one in our garage, I had amassed over ten pounds of Bosc and Anjou pears, by now all nearly ripe. Time to use them!
Call, text, or email a friend. Or, step a few yards beyond your door to gather in a neighbor. As you sit connecting with another person over a slice of something this good, chatting about the break in the rain or a recent sighting of hooded mergansers, your mood will lift. And, you'll be glad you came out of hibernation.
Pear Crumble Tart
Serves 8 to 10
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (75 grams) whole almonds
1/2 cup (70 grams) spelt flour
1/3 cup (60 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 pounds ripe pears (Bosc, Anjou), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Crème fraiche or whipped cream for serving
For the crust: Remove butter 10 minutes prior to using to allow to soften slightly in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add sugar and beat on medium, just until incorporated. Add egg yolks, flour, and salt. Mix until dough comes together.
Coat bottom and sides of 9 to 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray or a thin layer of butter. Use the heel of your hand to press dough into the pan and almost halfway up the sides of the pan. The bottom should be even to ensure that it bakes evenly. Place in the freezer for half an hour.
For the crumble topping: Pulse almonds, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice and kosher salt in a food processor until the almonds are broken into very small pieces. Add butter and pulse again for a few moments until mixture looks sandy. Continue to pulse until pieces are just clumping together.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lined the chilled tart crust with aluminum foil or a piece of parchment paper and cover with a layer of pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes, remove foil/paper and weights and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until crust is browned. Remove from oven.
For the filling: In a bowl, mix together the pears, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla and almond extracts. Place the pear filling evenly into the tart shell. Strew crumble topping over the pears. The pears will be almost entirely covered by the topping.
Bake tart for 50 minutes, until the crumble topping has browned. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes then run a knife around the outside of the crust to separate it from the pan. Allow to rest in the pan for 30 more minutes. Remove sides of the springform and allow tart to continue cooling.
This tart can be served warm or at room temperature. It is delicious with a dollop of crème fraiche or whipped cream.