Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD: French Pear Tart

Let me first set expectations by letting you know this entire post was written under the influence of DayQuil. So if I ramble or embarrass myself, I'm blaming it on the nice folks at Vicks.

If I didn't already have a naming convention for my Tuesday with Dorie posts, I'd probably entitle this one "It All Comes Down to This." This recipe, more than any other, nicely illustrates my frustrations with learning to cook out of a book, and why I love the TWD group.

I haven't talked much about the classes I took last semester (they ended up being a bit of a bust - more on that later), or about why I'm taking them at all. As it turns out, I truly am at mid-life and am just learning about food and how to cook it. My mother readily admits she did not have the patience to teach me to cook (it was her, not me!) so I left home and went off to college with only a basic meatloaf recipe under my belt. I didn't really learn much in the following decades but really wanted to know more. I've subscribed to cooking magazines and picked up cook books for years and have tried various things with various levels of success.

It really wasn't until I took the classes in Culinary Arts at my local community college that I got any really helpful information. Perhaps most people are like this, but I'm an "observe and do" kind of a gal. I need someone to show me, and then practice myself, before feeling like I "get" something. And that is one of the most important things I've learned in school -- this is an art (ergo "culinary ARTS") and just because you make something once and it didn't' turn out well doesn't mean you should give up on that thing. Learn from those mistakes and try again.

It also opened my eyes to why cookbooks don't really teach you how to cook. Which brings me back to my tart. Had I not taken a cake decorating class (we made the most exotic cakes and very few gum paste roses in that class) I would have had NO idea what this recipe was about. I probably would have run at "blanched" almonds (cooking 101 taught me how to blanch a tomato - who knew you could blanch an almond!), and I never would have figured out that an 8 inch springform pan will stand in fairly well for a 9 inch tart pan. And I definitely never, EVER, would have known what Dorie meant when she described cutting the pears to put on the tart. And that has nothing to do with Dorie's description. If you've seen it, it makes perfect sense. And luckily I have, so I knew what to do.

Other TWDers, however, never had, and that's what I love about this little community of bakers from all over the world. You can ask questions and get answers from people who know without them making you feel like a complete dope! Links to pictures were even included, which were incredibly helpful to those who needed it. And those of us without food processors (I seriously have no room for any more equipment in my tiny kitchen -- seriously!) learned what our options were to make this without one.

While trying to contend with my dough without a food processor, it occurred to me that every chef I admire at some point in time has written the words "I learned this from 'X' at 'Y place' " -- meaning even the Dories and the Davids and the Jamies of the world have learned not from books but from their friends and co-workers who love creating with food as much as they do. Although we TWDers aren't in the same kitchens to learn "with" each other, this wonderful little community allows us to do that nonetheless.

So with all of that -- here it is, my French Pear Tart. Made with pears from a jar, and in an 8 inch springform pan. Had trouble with the dough, but I think it came out okay. My biggest problem was I had the "brilliant" idea of just blanching almonds I already had -- I'm on a resource saving kick. That way the only thing I needed to buy was the pears.

This was indeed a money saving idea -- I snack on raw almonds so I had them in the house -- but it definitely was not a time saving idea (I need to be more specific about which resource I'm trying to save!). Other than that taking forever, everything went along swimmingly. It was a little challenging to smooth out the almond cream in the springform pan. I only used 4 pears rather than 6. Going in it looked promising!

And coming out - oh so yummy! And pretty! I think this is the prettiest thing I've ever made! It is cooling as I type, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how it tastes. Maybe I will have fully recovered my sense of smell by then (I hope!!).

One thing before I close......There are recipes in Baking: From My Home to Yours that scare the pants off me, and I semi-cringe whenever the recipes are announced each month, worried that something I am ill-prepared to bake will be picked. But with each passing week I'm learning that "I can do that!" with the help of my TWD friends. So rather than running for the hills, I'll be running over to TWD to get some coaching. Thanks, friends!


chocolatechic said...


I too, used a spring form pan.

Danielle said...

Your tart came out perfect. I have to admit I am slowly learning to cook myself. I used to eat things out of a box but I am slowly putting things together and using my family as my guinea pigs!

Cooking for Comfort by Jennifer said...

You did a beautiful job...and nice writing...I did not notice a single rambling!

Susan said...

Its beautiful and Im sure it tastes wonderful!
I really enjoyed your story...
Hope you are feeling better!

Pamela said...

What an excellent post! You did a phenomenal job and I am sure you will love it. I didn't participate this week, but everywhere I've been, I've heard nothing but rave reviews. I will be trying it soon.

Barbara said...

Lovely! I hope your sense of smell / taste came back, because this was delicious!

Yeah, popping the almonds out of their peels is tedious, not to mention the way they end up shooting all over the kitchen! I got my husband to help me. I hadn't baked for TWD in two weeks and he was getting very impatient for another treat!

Are the folks who love to cook a wonderful community? So glad you're enjoying it!