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Perfectly Imperfect

I am not the kind of woman who makes Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds. No way. That kind of woman, I’d venture, does not have a towering stack of tupperware lids ready to lurch out of the cupboard every time she opens it. She probably does not let a half-peck of pears from the market sit around in the fridge for a week before she realizes she really ought to get around to doing something with them. I’m certain she doesn’t leave her dirty dishes in the sink till morning. And I’d bet you a dozen Tahitian vanilla beans that she follows recipes exactly, especially when pastry is involved, which she would be keen to do.

Me? I’m the lady baker who will blithely substitute ingredients when I don’t have something on hand — cardamom for cinnamon, brown sugar for white, bittersweet chocolate for semisweet. Only one stick of butter left in the fridge rather than a stick and a half? That’s what oil (or some other fat) is for. Sometimes I use a food processor to cut butter into flour; other times I use my fingers. As you seasoned bakers could well predict, this sometimes results in less-than-desirable results: an oddly-spiced apple pie; flatter-than-desirable banana bread; under-sweetened cookies. This is because I try to bake like I cook–with improvisation, instinct, and–ok, I’ll admit it–a bit of laziness. Or, to put it a bit more charitably, a certain un-fussiness.

Sometimes, though, the lazy-lady-baker gods reward me for my modifications, like my use of sour cream and milk instead of buttermilk in pancake batter, which creates these tangy, rich, almost muffin-like, little cakes. Most recently, it resulted in a rustic pear tart with almonds–the less pretentious cousin of Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds.

pear-almond rustic tart

Why the Epicurious recipe uses “croustade” in the title–which, my handy food reference book describes as “an edible container used to hold a thick stew, creamed meat, vegetable mixture, and so on,” remains a bit opaque to me. I suppose a free-form tart shell is an “edible container” of sorts; I see where they’re coming from. But isn’t that sort of like calling a glove a hand-sock?

With that appetizing segue, let me offer my take on the recipe, which resembles the original but is a bit more relaxed about things.

Rustic Pear Tart with Almonds
Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup whipping cream
A few teaspoons of water (if needed)

Filling:
2 pounds ripe pears, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (I used Bartlett, and I’d have liked them to be a bit more firm)
3 tablespoons sugar (depending on how ripe your pears are)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground nutmeg
heavy cream (for brushing)
a small handful of sliced almonds — though pine nuts could work here nicely as well

For pastry:
Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms. Incorporate 1/4 cup cream, and toss with fork until moist clumps form, adding some water by teaspoonfuls as needed if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour. [You could also do this in the food processor if you’re so inclined.]

For filling:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine pears, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and nutmeg in large bowl to coat. Roll out pastry on floured surface to 14-inch round. Fold crust in half, and then half again, and transfer to rimmed baking sheet. (For some reason that I can’t recall, I like baking my free-form tarts on the back of the baking sheet, but this just might be me trying to be different.) Mound pears in center of pastry, leaving 2-inch border. Fold pastry border over pears. Brush pastry edges with cream; sprinkle with sliced almonds, pressing them ever-so-gently into the pastry.

Bake until filling bubbles and almonds are lightly toasted, about 1 hour. If you oven is crazily uneven like mine is, keep checking the temp and sniffing for signs of burned crust.

Cool slightly. Best served the next day to surprise guests, with modest pours of Woodford Reserve Bourbon or a mug of hot tea.

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