Almond Pear Hostess Tart

TEXAS IS TURNING COLD.  They say we might have snow this year, but so far it has just been cold winds and low fogs.  Already we’ve lost a pink mandevilla to the frost.  My mother waters her plants carefully, and I see to the trees.  One is a firm red oak, with small pinched leaves.  Another is a deciduous live oak that has discarded all of its leaves for the winter.  It is young, and looks young, and without its leaves it seems nervous and unsure of itself.  I tell it that in the spring, it will make friends again with the artichoke plant my father planted at its base.

My resolution for 2013 is to write more, and to write with intention.  I’m not completely sure what I mean by this, but I know I mean I want to write more.  My fledgling writing group is working hard to figure out how to keep afloat; we’re all doing very different things, in various parts of the US, and it’s hard to work writing and critiquing and google+ hangouts into three busy, feverish schedules.

But we’re trying.

And I’m reading, delving into fiction and YA lit and essays, and reintroducing myself to poetry and to Billy Collins.

Like this, which I love, and which I whisper to myself when I cannot make my own lines tie together in any convincing manner:

Introduction to Poetry – Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

In the new year, I also resolve to be a better hostess, or at least to think more fully about the kind of home I want to open to my friends and family.  Food is a big part of that, and this tart has already been a hit with neighbors.  It’s easy, it’s lovely, it’s lush, and it’s surprising.  What more could you ask for?

Pear Almond Hostess Tart
  • one unbaked pie crust (may I suggest the crust from this?)
  • 1 8-oz can of almond paste  (I used Odense)
  • 3-4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll out your pie crust (or tart crust, as the case may be) and line a tart pan.  Remember to press into the bottom of the pan and, using your thumb and index finger, pinch along the lip of the pan.

Roll out the almond paste.  Line the bottom of the crust with it.  Set aside.

Toss the sliced pears with lemon juice.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Pour over the pears and gently mix, so that the pears are coated but retain their shape.

Arrange the pears in the tart crust.  I like a rosette shape myself, but there are certainly no rules on how to arrange the pear slices.

Bake for 45-55 minutes at 375F, until the pears are soft and the crust is golden.  Remove and allow to cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Happy hostings!



Pumpkin Surprise Tart

I JUST GOT BACK from a quick trip to Philadelphia, which was cold and wonderful and filled with steaming mugs of chai and full-on, full-throated laughs with friends.  My hands are still not quite recovered from the sudden plunge into the low 40s (luckily, shea butter comes quickly and ably to the rescue), but it was a lovely trip and I am so glad I got to spend it meeting up with old friends and newer friends, and catching up with a city I adore.

And now, with Thanksgiving approaching, I’m back in Texas and I’m planning dessert.

I made this tart a couple of weeks ago — I was hoping for a slightly different result than what I ended up with (sometimes, planning is so not my forte), but it turned out to be wildly popular with the neighbors and my mother.  I’ll be making it as my contribution to the Thanksgiving potluck we’ve been invited to, and it really is an easy, satisfying tart.  Good for dessert, teatime, or breakfast, it’s ready to be enjoyed all by itself or with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Pumpkin Surprise Tart

The secret to this pie is the caramelized bananas.  When I planned it out, I thought I’d be able to lay the bananas on top of the tart as decoration, but when I actually poured them from the skillet onto the soft pumpkin filling, they sank.  Whoosh!  There went that brilliant idea.  Instead of throwing up my hands and grieving my plan, I swirled them into the tart filling and voilà: pumpkin surprise tart.


Once again, I used Nick Malgieri‘s recipe for the crust, which I also used for my ‘Til Next We Meet Peach Tart.

Caramelized Bananas

  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced into rounds about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup cream (or half & half)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or bourbon, if you want)

Pumpkin Filling

  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (I used a yoghurt & milk mixture since I didn’t have any buttermilk on hand, and it worked perfectly: 1/4 cup yoghurt mixed with 3/4 cup milk, and then take the 3/4 cup needed for the recipe)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Set oven rack in lowest setting.

Roll dough out onto a floured surface.  Line tart pan and sever excess dough from the sides; patch as necessary.  Set aside.

For the bananas, spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and add the bananas.  Cook for about 1 minute over medium heat, just so they sear.  Add the remaining ingredients — except for the vanilla (or bourbon) — and cook over medium heat, stirring gently, for about 3 minutes.  The sauce will begin to thicken, reduce, brown, and caramelize.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.  Set aside.

For the filling, place the pumpkin puree in a bowl and whisk in the eggs.  In order, whisk in the remaining ingredients.

You have a choice now, about presentation.  Either spoon the caramelized bananas into the tart shell, then pour the filling on top (which would be very orderly of you) — or pour the filling into the tart shell, then spoon the caramelized bananas on top.  As the bananas sink into the filling, swirl them through, so that they are more or less evenly distributed through the filling, but will still pop up as surprising accents as it is eaten.  (Personally, since I did call this a surprise tart, I’m going to go with option 2.)

Bake at 350F until dough is baked through and the filling is set, about 40-50 minutes.  Cool on a rack, then chill briefly.  Top with whipped cream if you are so inclined, and enjoy!



(Til Next We Meet) Peach Tart

I HATE GOODBYES.  Hate them.  I grow irritable, I’m short-tempered, I snap, I growl — basically, I turn into Kid-Me, circa 1987.  It’s horrible.  If I can, I avoid them with something approaching skill.  I slink out of cities with my suitcases filled & my head hunched into my shoulders; I disappear with my books and shoes and toothbrush, like a well-stocked shadow.  I send my regrets from other cities, other countries, other continents.  It’s easier, it’s safer, it’s better.  I hate having to say goodbye.

My dad has been visiting, but he’s leaving in two days.  I see him twice a year.  His job is overseas, and he only gets a certain amount of vacation days/conference days each year, and he usually has to split those between my mother and me.  But, as I’m still taking care of my mom in the aftermath of her surgery, he’s been able to see both of us together… But now he’s leaving again.  Which means another round of goodbyes, and I. Am. Dreading. That.


Consider: my parents are at a nursery right now, picking out new plants for their garden.  I am at home.  I made muffins for the neighbors.  I am thinking of making soup, or biscuits.  I am writing this.  I am not with my father, in one of the last two days he is here.  I am crawling back into myself, so that when he goes, I won’t have to think so hard about the fact that he was here and then left.  If I can put myself back together, absent from him, it won’t be so bad when he’s gone.

It’s pathetic.  I said it already, but it’s worth repeating: it’s horrible.  I’m horrible.

Last night — in a burst of realization that the actual goodbyes were really, suddenly upon us — I made a peach tart.  I’d stumbled across Nick Malgieri‘s cookbook, Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking, a few weeks ago and wanted to try out his sweet pastry dough recipe.  Joy of joys, it’s a wholly hands-on recipe, which is fantastic for someone facing a task they don’t want to do — all the anger, hurt, worry, despair, and sadness can go into your hands as you work the dough through, first breaking the butter down and then kneading the dough into a malleable and sensible ball.

On his blog, Nick Malgieri provides a couple of tart recipes that I will definitely be trying out soon, and which use his sweet pastry dough recipe.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your preference), they use the variation for the food processor.  Since I was all about the hands-on approach last night, I’ll walk you through that, but please do check out his blog and the recipes he offers.

This tart is a great distractor.  The dough lets you pound your frustration out onto a helpless stick of butter; the peaches ask to be sliced up with your anguish; the tart pan itself begs for a good thwacking with the rolling pin when you’re done.  (In future, I think I might even drown the peaches in brandy before laying them in the tart pan, to add a smidgeon more distraction.) So, here it is, the tart I made to take my mind off my dad’s impending departure, and which tasted — thankfully — not at all like a goodbye.

(Til Next We Meet) Peach Tart

Crust (taken from Nick Malgieri’s Bake!)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold; cut into 10 pieces
  • 1 egg


  • 2 large peaches (or 3-5 small peaches), pitted and cut into slices
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp flour (if your peaches are really juicy, you may need to add 1 Tbsp)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter, cold; cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 375F.

To make the crust, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl; mix well to combine.  Add in your cut pieces of butter and, with your hands, reach under the dry ingredients and mix them evenly through the flour.  With your fingertips, pinch the pieces of butter into the flour mixture, occasionally mixing them to evenly redistribute the butter.  Continue pinching the butter, sometimes rubbing handfuls of dough between your palms, until the mixture is cool and powdery, and no remaining pieces of butter are visible.  Pinch, redistribute, rub, repeat.  It’s a good time to let your mind wander, if you’re so inclined, since it’ll take a while.

Add the egg and use a fork to break it into the dough. With the fork mix the egg in; once it is mixed and you’ve got big clumps of dough sticking to each other, dump the whole mixture out onto a floured surface.  Knead into a consistent mass, and then flatten into a disc about 1/4-inch thick.

On your well-floured surface, roll out your dough to fill a tart pan.  Place in the tart pan and make sure you’ve got the sides and bottom well-pressed in.  Run your rolling pin across the edges to get off excess dough.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, put together the dry ingredients for your filling.  You can pinch the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers if you want, or use a pastry cutter to crumble the sugar, flour, salt and butter together.  You want a crumbly mixture, with a combination of fine and pebble-sized granules.

In the prepared tart pan, lay your peach slices in overlapping concentric circles.  I sort of ran out of peach slices — okay, I did run out of peach slices — so my interpretation of “overlapping” was a bit generous.  But you want them as tight as possible, and then fill in the middle of the tart pan in any which way you want.  I cut some of the peach slices a bit smaller for the middle, and that worked out well.

Sprinkle the butter mixture over the peaches.  It’ll look like it’s too much, but keep going.  As the butter melts in the oven and combines with the peach juices, it’ll spread out to fill the gaps between the peaches and create a sweet filling.

Once done, bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling up into thick, shiny bubbles over the peach slices.  Let cool, and enjoy!

And don’t forget: it’s not goodbye, and it isn’t even adieu.  It’s looking forward to the next time we’re together again.



Lemon Ricotta Fig Tart

ONE OF MY FAVORITE kitchen aromas is the warm, affirming smell that arises during the last ten minutes that a butter crust is in the oven.  It smells like home and it feels like joy, and the entire house becomes bright with promise and the expectation of a flaky, enlivening treat. And when you’ve struggled to get your crust not to crumble, and not to become stiff, and especially not to roll out too thin or too short — well, the scent then is particularly rewarding and  satisfying.

Surprises have been on my mind a lot lately, courtesy of my writing course.  I expected to spend the 10-day bootcamp writing poem after frantic poem, finding after a particularly exhausting writing jaunt that I had written nothing but rubbish and poorly punctuated lines and scrapping all with a scowl — but I’ve found myself delving into fiction instead, for the first time since high school.  It’s awkward, terrifying, and so much fun.  It’s sort of like slipping into a winter coat you’d forgotten you owned and finding the sleeves a little stiff and the hem a bit frayed.  But there’s a crumpled $5 note in the inside pocket and you suddenly have visions of yourself using that $5 for all sorts of wonderful (and cheap) pursuits.  Such promise!  Such wonder!

It’s always nice to surprise yourself sometimes, too, I think.

When a friend of my mother’s invited me to pick her fig tree clean of its fruit, I took to the project with some sort of freakishly wild abandon; I whooped and hollered under that tree, and scared some figs down and into a bag.  The rest, I plucked from the tree — she, you see, is not a fan of figs and is doing everything she can to get rid of the “nasty things.”  Well, here I am.

And since I’ve been playing around with crust, and since I have developed a sudden affection for baking with ricotta, and since I am now the proud (so proud!) owner of a hand mixer — well, nothing would do but a fig tart.  I took the crust recipe from Simply Recipes and, though you can easily use it for a galette, I lined my pie plate and filled it up with a grainy, lemony tart filling and topped it off with the halved figs.  The lemon zest is the surprise here, and the fact that the figs lose some of their sweetness in the baking.  And the crust: heavens, it smells good.

I expect I’ll find myself writing about tarts and pies in my bootcamp story — if not tonight then maybe tomorrow.

And because I’m feeling particularly generous and dance-y today, here: have a little joy for the afternoon.

Lemon Ricotta Fig Tart

Again, the butter crust recipe is from Simply Recipes, and though it’s a time consuming endeavor — freeze the butter? refrigerate the dough? — it’s a ridiculously easy dough recipe, and I’ve already used it for three different free-form galettes. The only thing I’d add is that keeping the dough cold really does help in working with it.  I even refrigerated my rolling pin.

Before rolling out the dough, I made the filling.  That way, I could refrigerate the filling while I was wrestling with the dough, bringing it out just when I was ready to fill the pastry shell.  Efficiency!

The Filling

  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 3/4 c ricotta
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • dash salt
  • zest of a small lemon, or 1/2 a large lemon
  • 1 lb figs, tips cut off and discarded, halved

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a medium sized bowl, use a hand mixer (or elbow grease!) to beat together the cream cheese and ricotta.  Beat in the sugar, then the vanilla and salt.  Beat in the lemon zest last — I actually zested it right over the mixing bowl — and set aside in the fridge.

Separately, halve all the figs and set aside.

When the dough is rolled out, place it in your pie plate and firmly press to the edges.  Fill with the ricotta cheese filling, and top with the halved figs.  Bake at 375F for 45-50 minutes, til the edges of the crust are golden and the figs have darkened somewhat.

Now, this is a pie that I think is better cold, so when you remove it from the oven, let it cool by itself — but then tuck it back into the fridge for a few hours.  It’ll hold its shape better that way, and oh! The lemon zest comes through crisp and clear, and what a difference that makes.