The second birthday honoree in our celebration of birthday month (in chronological order) is my friend Rob.  Rob is quite the foodie himself – a fantastic cook and a wine connoisseur.  Any time he invites us over for dinner I am very excited to taste whatever wonderful dish he has decided to prepare.  In particular, Rob enjoys French food and cooking, so I wanted to make a French dessert as his birthday treat.  Many ideas crossed my mind but too many of them required special equipment, last minute finishing, or just weren’t quite special enough.  I decided on this tart since it is the season for pears, and I am glad I did.  The almond cream was a fantastic accompaniment for the pears, and everyone commented on how much they enjoyed this.  I made the sweet tart dough that Dorie recommends and while it was good, I still prefer my usual go-to tart dough recipe more, so next time I will use that instead.  I used fresh poached pears, but you can use fresh unpoached or canned as you desire.  My pears were a bit misshapen, preventing me from making the beautiful spoked design with the fruit as I imagined, but it ended up looking alright.

French Pear Tart
For the pears:
6 canned pear halves, drained, or 3 ripe but firm medium pears (such as Bartlett or Anjou)

For poaching the fresh pears (optional):
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

For the almond cream:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 egg
2 tsp. dark rum or 1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 9-inch tart shell, partially baked and cooled

To poach the fresh pears, peel the pears and leave them whole.  Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat to a simmer and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow the pears to cool to room temperature in the syrup.  When you are ready to use the pears, discard the syrup.

To make the almond cream, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the mixture is smooth and satiny.  Add the ground almonds and process until well blended.  Add the flour and cornstarch and process to blend, then add the egg.  Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous.  Add the rum and process just to blend.  Use the cream immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  If using fresh unpoached pears, peel them now.  Cut the poached or unpoached fresh pears in half from blossom to stem and core them.  Rub the unpoached pears with lemon juice.  Pat the fresh or canned pears dry so that their liquid won’t keep the almond cream from setting.

Fill the partially baked tart shell with the almond cream, spreading it in an even layer.  thinly slice each pear half crosswise.  Lay the slices in an overlapping, fanned pattern on top of the almond cream, covering the top completely.  Put the tart pan on a baking sheet.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns.  Transfer the tart to a wire rack to cool.  Just before serving, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar.

Source: adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan