A Piece of the Pie

“Will there be stuffing?” my son asked in his reply to my email about his travel plans for Thanksgiving.  This is his first year traveling home for the holiday, something we both must get used to.  Right now, stuffing – his favorite part of the meal – is the tie that binds.

“There will indeed,” I answered.  “Lots and lots of stuffing.”

Note to self:  Make a double batch.

This year’s feast will include the favorite traditional trappings.  Roasted brined turkey.  A green vegetable.  Potatoes.  Everyone’s favorite stuffing.  But it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving for me without taking some liberties with the standards.  Duck confit ravioli en brodo with ginger, scallions and mushrooms will replace the usual vegetable soup.  My friend Robin Cohen’s Doves and Figs Cranberry Mustard will stand in for cranberry relish.  Even the pies face a makeover.

In case you are like me and need to put a twist on the familiar (but perhaps tired?) Thanksgiving classics, I’m sharing my first tweak, an idea for a fruit pie done slightly differently.  I’ve used pears instead of apples, and baked the pie upside down.  Talk about turning tradition on its head.

These Bosc pears are beauties, snapped up from the Friday farmers’ market in Harvard Square.  They hold their shape and taste fabulous.  Ergo, perfect for baking.  Give this pie a try.

Pear Tarte Tatin

  • 1 recipe cornmeal pastry or tart pastry
  • 2-2 1/2 pounds ripe but firm Bosc pears
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • beans scraped from 1/2 vanilla pod, or 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • zest from 1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make the pastry of your choice.  Gather the mixture into a disc, wrap this in plastic, and chill the pastry for at least 30 minutes.

While dough is chilling, peel and core the pears.

Halve them and cut each half into 3 wedges.  Set aside.

On the stovetop, heat a 10-inch steel or cast iron skillet with heatproof handle over medium heat.  Add in the butter and sugar and stir.  Cook the mixture until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, stirring often to combine.    Continue stirring, letting the sugar cook until it turns golden brown.  This will take about 5 to 7 minutes.  When browned, stir in the salt, vanilla beans, and lemon zest.

Remove the skillet from the heat and let the mixture stand for a couple of minutes.  It will solidify a bit as it does.  When just firm, start placing the pear slices into the caramel, rounded side down, forming concentric circles as you go around the pan.

Set pan aside when finished.

Flour a board or pastry cloth and roll out the pastry to a 1/8-inch thickness.  Trim the circle to 11 inches, or 1 inch larger than the skillet.

Place this circle over the top of the pears, folding the edge down into the pan to envelope the filling.  Prick the dough to make steam vents, and brush the crust with a little heavy cream.

Sprinkle with sugar, pearl sugar, or sparkle sugar if desired.

Bake the tart for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is nicely golden browned and the fruit juices are bubbling and syrupy.

Cool the tart (in the pan) on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes.

After the cooling period, place a large plate over the top of the pan.  Gripping the pan and plate firmly with pot holders or oven mitts, invert the pan so the plate is now on the bottom.  Place the plate with pan still on top on a solid surface,  like the counter or a table.  Gently lift the pan from the top, leaving the tart now right side up on the plate.  If any fruit sticks to the pan, or shifts about on the tart, gently nudge the pieces back in place with a fork.  Caramel syrup that drips onto the plate should be spooned back on top of the tart.

Cut into wedges and serve warm, either plain, with whipped cream, or with ice cream.

©2011  Jane A. Ward