Chai Chocolate Pear Tart

Chai Chocolate Pear Tart

All photos by Nicole Baas Photography

This was not supposed to be a pear tart.

I had a stroke of inspiration when I came up with the original idea for this tart.  There were supposed to be apricots.  Bright, fuzzy, sweet, fresh apricots.  But do you know when apricot season ends in the Northeast?  July.  Maybe August.  But certainly, definitely not September.  So I improvised.  Pears are in season, and they go beautifully with chocolate.  Good thing, too, because I had already made and frozen the tart dough a few weeks before.  Whoops.

This tart is made of three simple layers: a chocolate pâte sucrée, spiced pear compote, and spiced chocolate ganache garnished with baked pear slices.  If you're wondering why there's a layer of chocolate sponge cake in the photos, it's because it was an idea that went along with the original apricot tart.  I added it between the compote and the ganache, but it didn't add much to the flavor, and the texture was all wrong.  So I took it out of the final recipe.  However, if you're interested in knowing more, I halved Joe Pastry's chocolate genoise recipe, and it came out beautifully.  I even kept the scraps for a lighter riff on a German chocolate cake.  But I digress...

I couldn't find a chocolate pâte sucrée recipe that I liked, so I ended up mashing together concepts from a few different plain recipes and adding cocoa powder, because, what's baking without a little experimentation?  And I wanted to use a sweet dough instead of a brisée or sablée since the chocolate ganache was going to be bittersweet.  I also sprung for a new 9.5 inch tart ring (instead of my trusty fluted tart pan) because I love the sharp, straight edges it creates.

Once the tart was pre-baked, I simmered some peeled and cored pears with a little water and chai spices until they had broken down.  After a quick pulse in the food processor, I slathered a generous helping of the mixture into my tart shell.  Then I topped it with similarly spiced ganache and allowed it to set.  Ahead of time, I sprinkled some thinly sliced pears with sugar and baked them until golden.  When the ganache was partially set, I topped it with the candied pears and garnished the whole tart with some freshly grated cinnamon and pearled sugar.  Simple, sultry, rich, and perfect for fall.

This is another one of those recipes in which nearly all of the different components can be made ahead of time.  The tart dough can be made and frozen up to a month beforehand.  The pear compote can be make several days in advance.  And the shell and garnishes can be baked the day before.  The only thing that has to be made at the time of assembly is the ganache.  But if you really wanted to, you could even infuse the cream a day or two ahead of time, then just reheat it in order to melt the chocolate.  In the end, this tart looks a lot fancier than it is, which is the best kind of dessert in my opinion - deceptively impressive.

I loved making this tart because it was a little out of the ordinary for me.  I had never worked with chocolate tart dough before, and it's been a long time since I've made something this rich.  I've been teetering towards lighter and fruitier flavors lately, but the change of seasons brought along the taste for something dark and intense.

The best part of this shoot was that my friend Nicole, of Nicole Baas Photography, offered to hang out and take all of the photos for me!  So we were able to get a few action shots without having to fuss with my remote and timer, and she even got a few bonus shots of the babe being a ham, as always. :)  It was incredibly helpful to have a friend and fellow creative around to make suggestions, especially when I was starting to feel tapped out.  So thank you so much, Nicole, for coming over and playing photographer, stylist, and babysitter with me!  Next time we just have to make sure you actually get a piece of the pie before you run back to work!

Chai Chocolate Pear Tart

Yields one 9-inch tart

Ingredients

Chocolate Pâte Sucrée
175 g all-purpouse flour
50 g unsweetened cocoa powder
70 g confectioners' sugar
113 g unsalted butter, cold & cubed
56 g egg (approximately 1 extra large egg)

Chai Pear Compote
400 g (approx. 2) ripe pears, peeled, cored & chopped (e.g. d'Anjou)
2 thin slices ginger root
1 tsp plain black tea
5 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
5 cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
splash of vanilla extract
1 oz (2 T) water

Pear Garnish
28 g (2 T) unsalted butter, melted
2 firm pears sliced thinly through the center, approx. 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (e.g. d'Anjou)
1-2 T granulated sugar

Chai Chocolate Ganache
200 g (a scant cup) heavy whipping cream (See Note 1)
1 tsp plain black tea
2 thin slices ginger root
5 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
5 cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
150 g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
55 g (2 oz; 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cubed & room temperature
20 g (0.5 oz, 1 T) light corn syrup

Directions

Pâte Sucrée
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, cocoa powder, and sugar until combined.  Then add the cold butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs.  Add the whole egg and continue to pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand.  Dump the mixture onto a clean work surface and clump it together to form a loose dough.  Then gently knead it until it comes together and the texture is smooth and uniform.  Shape it into a disk, then wrap it in plastic and chill it for 24 hours.  You may also double wrap it and freeze it for up to a month.  When ready, allow the dough to thaw in the refrigerator for a day before using it.

When ready to bake the tart shell, preheat your oven to 350°F and set a rack in the middle.  Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 10-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare your tart ring by placing it on top of a silicone or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Alternatively, you can use a tart pan.  When the dough is still cold but slightly malleable, roll it between two large sheets of parchment paper until it is between 1/4 and1/8 inches thick (see Note 2).

Fold half of the dough over your rolling pin, then pick up the pin and transfer the dough to your tart ring.  Drape the dough over the ring and gently press it down.  Little by little, press the dough into the bottom and corners of the ring, turning the pan as you go.  If any cracks form, carefully press them back together.  Try not to stretch the dough or it will shrink in the oven.  Then to trim the top edge, press your rolling pin on top of the tart ring and roll it back and forth to pinch off the excess dough.  If your pin isn't long enough, you can just use a small, sharp knife.  Next, freeze the entire set-up for 10 minutes, then remove it and dock the surface of the crust with a toothpick or fork.  To properly blind bake your crust, first tightly crumple and un-crumple a large sheet of parchment paper - this will help it better form to the shape of the tart.  Then use it to cover the crust and fill the shell to the brim with raw rice (see Note 3).  Blind bake the tart shell at 350°F for 20 minutes, then rotate it and bake it for another 15 minutes.  Then gently remove the rice and parchment paper from atop the dough, pull off the tart ring (if you're using one), and continue to bake the shell for 15 more minutes or until it is dry and firm.  Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool completely.

Pear Compote
Either while your crust is cooling or several days in advance, add the chopped, peeled pears to a small saucepan.  Place tea, ginger, and whole spices (except for the cinnamon) into a tea strainer.  Add the tea strainer, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, and water to the pan, then cook the mixture for 10 minutes on medium high heat, stirring often.  When it is very fragrant and the pears have begun to break down, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.  Finally, remove the spices, and purée the mixture in a food processor until smooth.  The compote can be stored in the fridge for a few days.

Garnish
Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then brush the paper with some melted butter.  Slice the firm pears thinly, then place them on the buttered parchment.  Brush more butter on top of the pear slices, sprinkle them with a thin layer of sugar, then bake them on the top rack for 15 minutes.  Next, flip over the slices, sprinkle them with another thin coating of sugar, and continue to bake them for another 3 minutes.  Finally, turn on the broiler and caramelize them with the oven door ajar for 3-4 minutes, turning the cookie sheet frequently, until golden brown.  Alternatively, you can use a kitchen torch to maintain a lot more control of the caramelization.  Once caramelized, remove the pan from the oven and allow the pears to cool completely on a wire rack.  They can be made a day ahead.  Store them between sheets of parchment in an air-tight container.

Ganache + Assembly
When you're ready to assemble the tart, slather a smooth layer of the cooled pear compote into the baked tart shell using an offset spatula.  You may not use all of the pear compote; any remaining can be used as jam.  Next, set the tart aside and prepare the ganache.

Pour the 200 g of heavy whipping cream into a small sauce pan.  As you did with the pear compote, place tea, ginger, and spices (except for the cinnamon sticks) into a tea strainer.  Add the strainer and the cinnamon sticks to the pan, then heat the mixture over medium-high heat until it just begins to simmer.  Turn the heat down to low and allow the mixture to steep for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it keep steeping for another 20  minutes.  Meanwhile, place your finely chopped chocolate into a mixing bowl and place your cubed, softened butter and corn syrup into small bowls.  You'll need to have these ready to go when you mix the ganache.

Once the cream has steeped, remove the tea strainer and cinnamon, then weigh the remaining cream.  You need to have 180 grams (see Note 1).  Now, reheat the infused cream over medium-high heat for a few minutes until it just begins to simmer again.  Then drizzle the cream over the chopped chocolate, and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, use a whisk to gently stir the chocolate and cream together until they have completely blended.  This may take a minute, but be sure to stir slowly.  Whisking vigorously will introduce air into the emulsion and ruin the chocolate's temper.  Once the mixture is smooth, add the butter and gently stir it until it has melted completely.  Then, add the corn syrup and stir until it's blended.  Finally, slowly pour the ganache into the center of the tart until it comes up to the top edges.  You can gently shake the tart to help the ganache reach the edges, but try not to use a spatula.  Allow it to sit undisturbed for at least 20 minutes while it sets.  Then before it has completely set, carefully arrange the pear garnishes on top.  Sprinkle them with pearled sugar and grated cinnamon, if desired.  Allow the tart to to finish setting for at least a full hour before cutting into it.  Enjoy for up to two days covered, at room temperature!

Notes

  1. You need to start with at least 200 g of cream for the infusion since some will be absorbed by the tea leaves and spices.  For the final ganache, you'll want 180 g of flavored cream.  If you have too much, just pour a little off.  But if too much has been absorbed by the tea, just add enough fresh cream to reach 180 grams.
     
  2.  Rolling your dough between sheets of parchment will keep it from sticking to your counter without having to add excess flour to the dough.  Thanks for the tip, Thomas Keller!
     
  3. When blind baking, you can also use dried beans or pie weights, but rice is much smaller and won't leave large indentions like the pie weights will.  Another pro-tip from TK!
Willowdale Estate Styled Shoot

Willowdale Estate Styled Shoot