When I look back on the year 2013, I will have to say it was anything but boring. I've never much cared for roller coasters, but this year is quickly becoming one. You might recall that I recently returned from my yurt adventure, all rejuvenated and rosy cheeked. Warm, fuzzy feelings of everything being right in the world set in. It was good times. Flashback to a week ago when, out on an innocent sightseeing Sunday, I took a tumble and fell, hard. Too smitten with the South Saskatchewan River to watch where I was going, my foot caught in a rut and I, in all my uncoordinated glory, ended up breaking a bone in my right foot. At first I thought it was a simple, yet painful sprain, but as the shock wore off the excruciating pain set in and yup, an X-Ray revealed a broken foot. Oh my. This was so not how things were supposed to go for me! I had plans and activities and work to look forward to. Now, I'm laid up with crutches and an oh-so-sexy walking boot that still scares the bejeezus out of the cats. Seeing as I'm the pastry chef in a busy kitchen, work is put on hold indefinitely. I've had to rely on friends to help do simple tasks around the house. Let me tell you, it's pretty humbling to see someone else sweep your floor, do your laundry and take out your trash. I'll never again take for granted these simple activities that I wish I could do for myself. The broken foot has definitely cramped my independence, but given that today is Thanksgiving in Canada, I still have so much to be grateful for. Like, of all the bones to break in the foot, I broke the right one, requiring only 6 weeks to heal instead of 6 months (that would surely put me over the edge). I'm grateful to the friends and family to have stopped by with food, comforting words and offers of assistance. The sign of a true friend is one who will clean the litter box without being asked. True that. I've no doubt I'll heal well; the pain and swelling are already decreasing. Just be patient, the doctor said. I nodded my head. Just another one of life's adventures to look back upon when I'm 90 years old and shooting the shit in the seniors' home.
In case you're wondering I did not make this dessert recently. No, meals lately have been the reheated or scrambled egg variety, and I surely won't be baking until I can toddle around sans crutches and more importantly sans pain. But when I do, how awesome will that be? I've already got concoctions planned...just you wait and see.
What great foresight I had to whip this tart up on a sunny afternoon 3 weeks ago, pre-yurt and hurt. Pears are my favourite fall fruit - always have been. I love their sweet honey aroma, and when you bite into one that is just perfectly ripe, well, it's a glorious thing. I've always said if I were to ever get a tattoo it would be of a pear...somewhere. But I'm old and a scaredy cat, so that's unlikely to happen. I also love love love how well pears go with pastry and almonds. The sum of each part is made all that much better by hanging out with the others. I'm also having a love affair with all things star anise lately - if you can find them whole, just give them a good grind in your coffee grinder. If you can't find them at all, just increase the cinnamon a tad or substitute ground ginger - but do take a look around for some star anise - it's wondrous to have at your fingertips.
There are a few steps here, but don't be scared, the tart comes together quickly once the pastry is made and pears sliced. Dollops of dulce de leche add a caramel component that is always welcome in my house. Remember, this is a rustic tart - the edges don't have to be perfect, nor the pears arranged in a perfect circle. If I promise not to freak out over my broken foot, please promise me you won't freak out over a tear in your pastry. Life is all about the big and little and in-between moments, and at the end of the day, it really is a marvel to just be alive.
Some bright news! Remember when that local magazine Living Spaces came and hung out with me one summer afternoon? Well, the publication is out and it looks mighty fine. Here's an online link - I'm featured on pages 92-97.
Almond Pear Galette with Dulce de Leche
Pastry - your favourite recipe or this one or this one.
1 large egg white
3 tbsp powdered sugar
4 tbsp finely ground almonds
4 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 firm, ripe pears such as Bosc or Bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp ground star anise
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar, but granulated or cane sugar would work as well)
4 tsp butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup dulce de leche (I use the President's Choice brand)
Pastry should be chilled in fridge for at least one hour.
For the cream: whisk together egg white and powdered sugar in a bowl until frothy, about a minute. Stir in almonds, butter, almond extract. Whisk and refrigerate.
For the filling: toss pears with lemon juice, zest, spices and salt.
Preheat oven to 375*F. Roll pastry out on a lightly floured counter. You are aiming for about 12 inches diameter. Line a bakesheet with parchment paper. Fold your pastry in half and gently lift onto the bakesheet. Lay it out flat. Spread the cream evening, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange pear slices in concentric circles over the cream. Sprinkle with sugar and sprinkle bits of butter on top of pears. Fold edges of pastry over pears. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden and pears tender. Dollop the dulce de leche on tart and put it back in oven for another 5 minutes, just so it's melted. Remove from oven and if you like, take your pastry brush and gently brush the dulce so it evenly covers the surface of tart. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then place on cooling rack to cool completely. Serve at room temp with a little whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 6-8. Recipe adapted from Epicurious.