Sometime last month I waltzed into my local neighborhood food market expecting to dash in and out, retrieving the few items I needed and to quickly flee. I was however stopped dead in my tracks upon entering the store. There in front of me was a collection of the most dainty, diminutive pears I’d ever seen and I was instantly smitten. Tiny pears. I mean, American Doll size pears. I was filling a bag before I knew it, marveling all the while, not knowing if I’d cook with them or use them as an accessory.
Seckel Pears are certainly petite, about 2 ½ inches tall and are about 2 inches around. They have a milder flavor than many other larger pear varieties. They are usually available between September and December so this is the time to be on the lookout for them. Part of their charm is that they don’t oxidize as easily when cut, holding their creamy internal color without browning longer than other pear varieties.
Always loving a surprise intro to a new fruit or vegetable, especially one so fetching, I set out to incorporate them into a fitting dessert; only after admiring them on my countertop for several days. I settled on a Soft Shelled Cream Tart which is easy to make without the process of rolling out a hard tart shell. The flavor and texture are beautifully soft and seasonal. It’s a relatively quick dessert to whip up as well as one which is unique, like the Seckel pear.
Seckel Pear Soft Shelled Creme Tart
_For the SHELL:_
- I stick of unsalted butter (and some extra for buttering the pan), room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs , room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 cup almond flour/meal
_For the FILLING:_
- ¾ cups crème fraiche
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg , preferably freshly grated
- 5-6 Seckel pears , peeled, sliced in 4 pieces vertically with core removed (or 2-3 larger pears, peeled, cored and sliced into vertical pieces)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch round tart pan. With a stand or handheld mixer, beat together the butter, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt until fluffy (about a minute).
Add the 3 whole eggs one at a time, mixing each in fully before adding the next one. Scrape sides of bowl if needed during mixing.
Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and lemon zest and mix in.
Add almond meal and mix just until combined; do not over mix.
Using a spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are mixed together. Pour the batter into the prepared tart pan, scraping all batter from the bowl.
Spread batter in tart pan to cover the bottom and up on the sides to the top of the pan creating a cavity. It will not be stiff batter and will not stay fully up on the sides though the cavity will remain intact. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Whisk together crème fraiche, 2 egg yolks, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, cardamom and nutmeg. Pour into the cavity of the crust batter. Smooth out with a spatula allowing a border of crust batter to be between the side of the tart pan and the filling which will form a bit of a rim.
Place the pear slices in the filling in any decorative pattern you choose.
I suggest putting the tart on a cookie sheet to bake to stabilize getting it into and out of the oven (I also used a tart pan with a removable bottom so there was a bit of leakage). Place the tart in the oven and bake until slightly golden, about 35 minutes. Serve warm.