This has become one of my favourite desserts to make since eating it in a tiny restaurant in Turin many years ago – I can still remember how soft the pears were in contrast to the crisp yet tender pastry. It is incredibly simple and comforting, and elegant at the same time. It also happens to be one of the first things I made for my husband Nori when we started dating. I always do feel a little sentimental come Autumn when pears are at their best and I can make this tart. While late autumn and winter doesn’t have the exciting arrivals of things like berries and stone fruit, sturdy and dependable pears made into this beautiful tart is a welcome treat in the colder months.
Traditionally this tart is made with Italian Martine or Martin Sec pears, but Beurre Bosc pears are the next best thing, as they are also a firm dry pear which keeps its shape when cooked. Perfect for this dessert where they are first poached in red wine and spices and then of course baked in the torte in the oven. I’ve chosen a Dolcetto to poach the pears in – I wanted something from the region of Piemonte in Italy, like the torte itself, and of course delicious to drink aswell – since it doesn’t use a whole bottle. If you don’t have any wine on hand, you can also simply poach the pears in a light sugar syrup with the spices, it won’t be the same but it will still work and be delicious.
I poached the pears the night before and let them sit in the liquid in the pot to soak up some more flavour, but this is of course optional. I also made the pastry in advance and let it chill in the fridge overnight. It’s a great dessert to make in stages if you don’t have big block of time, and it can also sit intact in the fridge overnight in its entirety ready to be baked. Usually the red wine poaching liquid is reduced til it’s thick and syrupy and then is poured over the torte. However, I really love a homemade crème anglaise with pears – but either is great. The creaminess is a really lovely contrast to the tender pastry, which has a pleasing sandy texture thanks to the polenta.
JULIA’S Pear + Polenta tart (serves 8)
400ml medium-bodied Italian red wine such as Dolcetto, Nero d’Avola, Amarone or Nebbiolo
180g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 strips of lemon peel
5-6 firm beurre Bosc pears
180g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
150g fine polenta
80g caster sugar
zest of a lemon
pinch of sea salt
200g cold unsalted butter, cubed
3 egg yolks, lightly whisked
3-4tbsp iced water
1 egg, for the egg wash
icing sugar, to dust
Begin by making the poaching liquid for the pears. Combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon, lemon and 600ml of water into a large pot. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat then reduce to low, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 8-10 minutes to reduce the liquid slightly.
Meanwhile prepare the pears by removing the stems, peeling, halving and coring them. Add them into the poaching liquid. Cut a piece of baking paper to the size of the pot and then cut a hole in the middle. Press the paper onto the surface of the pears. This stops the liquid evaporating too much and also keeps the pears submerged. Simmer the pears until tender. Insert a knife into a thick part of the pear and turn them over halfway if not fully submerged. This should take around 20 minutes but will depend on the pears you are using and how firm they are. Allow to cool in the poaching liquid then transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to dry. They need to be cool and completely dry before using them.
For the pastry, mix the flour, polenta, sugar, lemon and sea salt in a large bowl or on a bench until combined. Add the butter and toss it through the flour to coat. Use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour until you have mostly pea sized lumps, some butter more rubbed in is fine too. Pour in egg yolks and begin to gently press the flour into the egg to begin to create the pastry. Add the iced water, 1tbsp at a time until you can press the pastry dough together and there is no dry bits of flour left. Shape into a disc, wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Allow the pastry dough to sit at room temperature to make it easier to roll. Take two thirds of the pastry dough and roll out on a dusted work bench to approximately 4mm in thickness. Drape into a 25cm fluted pan with a loose base. Arrange the pears onto the pastry. Now roll out the remaining pastry and lay over the pears, using your hands to shape it over the pear halves. Trim any excess overhanging pastry and press gently to secure the pastry edges together.
Whisk the egg with 1tsp of water and brush the tart with the egg wash. Pierce two holes into the pastry to allow for steam to escape and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is a sunny golden colour. Allow to cool then transfer to a serving plate and dust generously with icing sugar and serve slices at room temperature with crème anglaise. Any left over tart can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
What else I’m cooking with…
Persimmons, chestnuts and pumpkin. The latter in everything – risotto, pies, tarts and curries.
What I’m eating…
Click here to download printable recipe!