Saturday, May 5, 2012

Brandied Pear and Pecan Tart with Maple Caramel Sauce

So since I started playing around with  my new OXO hand-held mandoline slicer (check out my baked ratatouille post to enter for a chance to win one yourself!), I started thinking about making some sort of pretty, delicious dessert.  I got the idea for this slightly naughty pear tart, and totally went to town.

For the shortbread crust, I used the recipe that goes with the lemon squares in The Savannah Cookbook, and I halved the maple caramel sauce recipe I found at  But when it came to the pear and pecan filling, I used my standard pecan pie recipe as a base point and then sort of winged it.

This is the sort of recipe requiring "phases of baking", as you have to make and bake the shortbread crust, then bake the tart with the filling, then make the caramel sauce.  It took me about two hours in the end, but the result was worth it.

I realize not everyone likes brandy, so if you fall into that camp, just double the amount of vanilla used.

Brandied Pear and Pecan Tart

For the crust:

  • 2 sticks salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
After softening the butter, sift the flour, powdered sugar, and salt together, and cut the flour into the butter with a pastry blender until it forms coarse crumbs.

Grease and flour (or use Wilton Bake Easy spray) a 12-inch tart pan. Press the shortbread dough into the pan and prick evenly with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and let cool completely. Depending on your oven, you may want to check the crust after 15 minutes to ensure it doesn't burn.

For the filling:
  • 3 medium to large pears (I used Bartlett)
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons salted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 scant teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon French brandy (increase vanilla to 2 teaspoons if omitting the brandy)
Peel, core and thinly slice the pears.  My OXO hand-held mandoline slicer was awesome at the slicing part of this.  You want the slices very thin so they bake up tender.

Chop the pecans to your desired coarseness.  I did mine in 1/2 cup batches in my OXO chopper - about five or six "smacks" was the perfect result for me.  Toss them into a large mixing bowl with the sliced pears.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan, then add the corn syrup and brown sugar.  Stir until the sugar starts to dissolve and the mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool for a couple minutes.  Slowly whisk in the beaten egg (very slowly, so you don't scramble the egg) until smooth.  Add the vanilla and brandy (if you're using it).

Pour the sugar mixture over the pears and pecans, then stir with a large spatula to coat.

Carefully pour the filling into the cooled crust.  Most of the pecans and the sugar mixture will have fallen to the bottom of the bowl, so if you're careful you can make a thick layer mostly out of pear slices, pouring the remaining pecans and sugar mixture over the top.  Use the spatula to even out the distribution of the pecans.

Bake on 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until the pears are tender and the filling bubbles.  Let it cool on a wire rack for about twenty minutes, then begin making the caramel sauce.

For the sauce:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the salt and brown sugar, stirring constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the maple syrup.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally and keeping an eye on the pot, until the sauce is thickened slightly and will coat a spoon.  Remove from heat and let it cool in the pan for a few minutes.  It will continue to thicken as it cools. (It can be stored in airtight containers, in a cool place, for about a week.)

I transferred half of the sauce to a measuring cup and let it cool a few minutes longer.  Then I poured it over the tart and let the whole thing cool completely.  The rest of the caramel sauce was kept in a pretty little crystal creamer, in case my dinner guests (aka members of my family who were coming over for dinner that night) wanted to add extra sauce.

With a couple scoops of ice cream, this tart was a huge hit!

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