Wednesday, 5 September 2012

PEAR & ALMOND TARTE TATIN

I'm hooked on The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), a competition for amateur bakers which is aired weekly on BBC2. It's tense and funny, mouthwatering and imaginative, with a great cast of characters and a fine cavalcade of cakes, buns, muffins and loaves to enjoy each week. The two judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, are well-matched. Paul is strict, and his soft brown eyes belie his harsh criticism of undercooked pastry cases or bread that was not prove properly, while Mary offers a kinder form of critiquing of the contestants' offerings (hopefully not burnt offerings!).

In my home, GBBO is required viewing. Although I'm not a great cake maker, I do make bread very regularly, and I do like looking at what other people are cooking. The episode which featured Tarte Tatin caused quite a lot of angst in my house, with shouts of "never turn your back when cooking sugar" and "that's not a proper Tarte Tatin!" at the television as the contestants produce a range of weird and wonderful versions of the famous French upside down apple tart.

My husband's premise for Tarte Tatin (his favourite pudding) is "keep it simple, stupid!". I make mine from apples, pears or bananas (for a slightly more exotic version). I do not mix apples and pears; nor do I go in for savoury Tatin, featuring onions, or figs and Roquefort and other fillings. These are ersatz in my view, and should be avoided. Admittedly, banana Tarte Tatin is a little off piste, and some dinner guests have recoiled at the thought of it, quickly won round when they try it. Do it properly and you end up with a lovely deeply burnished tarte, delicious served with a big dollop of creme fraiche. It was very nice to see a simple banana Tarte Tatin on GBBO.

Another tarte which caught my attention was made with pears and almonds, or rather marzipan. Pear and almond is one of those perfect flavour combinations, and as soon as I saw it on the programme, I knew I had to make it. Rather than faffing about trying to make the perfect caramel in a saucepan, I make everything in one pan, top it off with a disc of puff pastry and bake it until crisp and golden. While it is still warm, I turn it upside down. Et voila!

250g good-quality all-butter bought puff pastry, rolled out to slightly larger than the tin size
4-6 hard pears, peeled, cored and quartered
250g ready-made marzipan (golden or natural), rolled out to the size of the tin
About 4 tbsps sugar (granulated or caster is fine)
Approx 25g, very cold unsalted butter, cubed

Oven 200 °C

Cook's note: You need a tatin pan, or similar pan which can go on the hob and in the oven.

Put the sugar in the tatin pan and set it on the hob over a high heat. Make sure the sugar is evenly distributed over the base of the pan. The sugar will start to melt and caramelise from the edges first. Swirl it around to ensure all the sugar cooks at roughly the same time. It will turn a lovely burnished copper colour. Remember: DO NOT TURN AWAY FROM IT! At this point, turn off the heat and dot the caramel with cold butter. It will froth up a little. Then place the pear quarters on the caramel, cover with the disc of marzipan, and top with the puff pastry, tucking the edges down a little around the sides of the pan. Place in the oven and cook for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown. Remove from the oven and while the tarte is still warm, put a place over the top of the pan and turn it upside down to turn out the tarte. Set aside to cool. It is best served at room temperature.

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