Spring has arrived but the winter chill is still lingering. I am savouring the last moments with the flavours of winter- slow cooked beef ribs, hearty stews and the earthy flavours of chestnuts, hazelnuts and mushrooms. We are away for the Easter holidays and I spied on the flight, a pear and chocolate cake on the dinner menu. My sons gobbled up a similar chocolate and pear tart when we were in Valle d’Aosta last and I decided it could only be improved by the addition of the seasonal chestnut.
Poached pears (pere Martin Sec al vino rosso) is a traditional local dish made with the Martin Sec variety of pears which are small, rust coloured and firm. The pear is named for the time it is harvested, in the days leading up to the feast of San Martino. The pears can be poached one day and served as dessert with ice cream, custard or whipped cream and the remaining pears can be reserved to make this tart another day.
Alternatively if you are short on time, you could use store bought short crust pastry and tinned pear halves. The only thing you will need to make is the chocolate custard filling.
Crostata di castagne, cioccolato e pere (chestnut, chocolate and pear tart)
300 grams butter
200 grams caster sugar
10 grams honey
3 egg yolks
400 grams 00 or plain flour
75 grams chestnut flour
25 grams cocoa flour
Poached pears (pere al vino rosso):
4 pears, use Martin Sec, Williams or Bartlett, ripe but not soft
300 grams sugar
1 cinnamon stick
750 ml red wine (medium to full bodied), can substitute with water but then add 100 ml lemon juice)
55 grams milk chocolate, broken into small pieces
180 grams dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
125 grams whole milk
180 grams double cream
1 egg yolk
7 grams platinum gelatin sheets, soaked in cold water
Beat the sugar and butter together in a mixer until fluffy and has whitened. Add the honey and yolks to combine. Sift in the flour, chestnut flour and cocoa powder and mix only to combine. Try not to over stir the flour as it will start to form gluten strands. Roll the pastry into a ball and wrap in cling film. Rest the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to two days.
Preheat the oven to 175C. Peel the pears and rub them with the cut lemon. Place them in a baking dish just large enough to hold the pears. Sprinkle the sugar over top and add the rest of the ingredients to the dish. Try to cover the pears as much as possible with the wine. Bake for 1 hour, rotating the pears if necessary to keep them evenly submerged.
Alternatively you can bring the liquid to a simmer in a large sauce pan and poach the pears for an hour on the hob/stove top. Rotate the pears if necessary to keep them evenly submerged and cook until a fork can easily pierce the pear.
If you are using water instead of wine, cut out a piece of parchment paper to fit the top of the dish/pot to keep the pears from turning brown.
Bring to a simmer the milk and cream. Pour over the chocolates. When the chocolate has melted, add the egg, egg yolk and gelatine, stirring until smooth.
Keep the oven at 175C. Divide the pastry in half. Grease a tart tin/ring. If using a tart ring, place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roll out half the dough and use it to line the tart tin/ring. Push down the dough in the corners of the tin so that the sides don’t slip down. Use a small knife to cut any excess pastry off around the edge. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove it from the oven and pour half of the chocolate custard in. Place the pears, cut side down into the custard. Top with the remaining custard. Roll out the second ball of pastry and place it on top, pushing down the edges and cutting off any excess. Cut vents into the top and bake for 30 minutes until golden. Let cool completely before serving.