Tarts and pies are basically the same creature in a different form. The pie is humble in nature while the tart is its elegant counterpart. Think blueberry tart as opposed to a blueberry pie. The tart is what I would go for! A large tart will feed more people than a pie will, so it’s a good dessert to serve for a special friend or family gathering. Tarts are also easier to make than pies, there’s no crimping edges or rolling out another crust for the top. While this tart is not difficult to make, it is time-intensive. It’s a delicious dessert and worth the effort.
While this recipe requires quite a few steps there are ways to make the process easier. There are three components to this recipe, all of which can be made a day or two ahead of time. The pasta frolla dough can be refrigerated up to two days in advance. It can also be frozen for up to two months (thaw in the refrigerator before rolling). To save even more time, you can roll out the dough, place it in the pan and freeze for several days (place directly in the oven and allow more time during baking). Pastry cream can be refrigerated for up to two days. The poached pears can be made hours in advance. This tart is served cold, so it can be assembled, baked, and refrigerated several hours before serving.
Marsala Poached Pear Tart
Difficulty Rating: Moderate
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
For the Pastry Cream Filling:
1 1/2 cups half-n-half
1/4 cup sugar
2 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 large egg, separated (egg white reserved)
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon finely chopped candied orange peel (optional)
For the Tart:
1 recipe pasta frolla dough or homemade pie crust
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
For the Poached Pears:
5 large bosc pears (about 2 1/2- pounds)
1 750-ml bottle of sweet Marsala wine
Juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Equipment Needed: 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom
Make the Filling: Place the two egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the milk, sugar, cornstarch, and orange zest in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until mixture begins to thicken. Continue whisking and slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Quickly whisk the egg mixture until smooth. Slowly add the egg mixture into the pan while whisking constantly. As the mixture begins to bubble, continue whisking and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until it thickens and resembles pudding. Remove pan from heat, add vanilla and continue whisking for another minute. Fold in candied orange peel if using. Transfer the filling to a small bowl, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
Poach the Pears: Wash and peel the pears. Cut each pear in half and scoop out the core with a melon baller. Cut out the blossom end. You can either remove the stems or leave them on.
Combine the Marsala, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon, orange, zest, and nutmeg in a 3 to 4-quart saucepan over high heat. Add the pear halves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook the pears for about 15 to 20 minutes, until just tender when pierced with a fork. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears from the pan and drain well in a colander placed over a bowl. Let the pears cool completely.
Continue cooking the Marsala mixture until it is reduced to ½ cup. Watch the mixture closely as it starts to thicken and becomes syrupy. It will form bubbles and start to foam. Do not overcook or it will become bitter and burn. Transfer immediately to a small bowl.
Make and Bake the Tart Shell: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Working quickly, roll the chilled pasta frolla dough to 3/8-inch thickness on a floured surface. Carefully place the dough into the tart pan, lightly pressing dough into the bottom and sides. Roll a rolling pin along the edges to trim the excess dough. You can freeze any extra dough for up to 2 months and use it for making miniature tarts. Patch any tears or cracks with extra dough. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Place the reserved egg white in a small bowl and beat with a fork until frothy, set aside. Line the tart crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill with rice, beans, or pie weights. Bake for 18 minutes, until edges begin browning. Carefully remove the paper and fillers. Brush some of the egg white on the sides and bottom of the tart to prevent the crust from getting soggy after filling. Return to the oven and cook 2 minutes longer, until the bottom is dry. Transfer to a cooling rack and let the crust cool completely in the pan.
Assemble and Bake the Tart: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut each pear half in ¼ inch slices lengthwise, starting from the bottom end of the pear and stopping within a quarter inch of the edge. Do not cut the slices all the way through. You should be able to fan the pear out from the stem end. It is easier to arrange the pears if you remove the small end slices from each half and use them to cover any gaps on top.
Layer the bottom of the tart with the pastry cream filling. Carefully arrange the pears on top of the filling. Brush the top of the pears with the Marsala syrup. You will have leftover syrup. Sprinkle walnuts on top. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove tart from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack. Refrigerate in the pan for at least 3 hours or until ready to serve. When ready to serve, carefully remove the side of the tart pan and place on a serving platter if desired. Drizzle some of the remaining Marsala syrup on top. Cut into wedges and serve as is or with lightly sweetened whipped cream on the side.