Holiday Desserts – Julia Child's Pear Tart

by moderndomestic on December 14, 2009

Pear Tart

A delicious blast from the past.

Last Sunday I had my book club over for an afternoon of Julia Child, chatting, and food. We were reading Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France,” about Child’s first years in Paris and her education at the Cordon Blue Cooking School. Back in July when I watched Julie and Julia I had the bright idea that I should have the book club over in December and make lunch from “Mastering The Art of French Cooking.”

I have to say, I was so focused on making the lunch that I actually didn’t read all of the memoir (okay, I stopped at page 70). And I had no idea that the recipes in “Mastering” were so damn labor intensive – I wanted to make a sauce to go with my chicken, but I didn’t have the four hours that it would require. I read somewhere (and I can’t now remember where, otherwise I would link to it) that Child’s techniques reflected classic French restaurant cooking – her laborious methods reflect the technique of a restaurant chef rather than those of a home cook. I believe it.

Even if looking through the Mastering the Art of French Cooking transports me back to the 1950s, I was surprised at how great all the food was. The butterflied chicken, bathed in butter and tarragon, was delicious, and the cauliflower, cooked in cheese sauce and spread with bread crumbs, was one of the most perfect things I’ve had in a long time.

But I was really surprised at how much I loved the dessert. It seemed so staid and boring – a poached pear tart with a sugar cookie crust and frangipane (almond pastry cream) filling. But the simple flavors were perfect. I poached the pears in a wine syrup flavored with cinnamon and spices, which made them sweet and spicy and even more pear-like than before. The almond cream was sweet and creamy and paired perfectly with the pears. And the cookie crust was crunchy and sweet and fresh. It was a perfect dessert.

Really, this Julia Child person really knew what she was talking about. And some classic things – even if they feel stuffy, actually are classics for a reason. The only problem I had with the tart was that the pears were a little too big to fit in the tart shell – I guess pears were probably smaller in Julia Child’s time.

Pear Tart 2

So yeah, my pear slicing skills are not so hot.

Julia Child’s Pear Tart

For the frangipane:
1/2 cup almonds
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup whole milk
3 tbs butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toast almonds until brown (about 10 minutes), then pulverize in a bender, food processor, or with a mortar and pestle.

Whisk egg and egg yolk in a large mixing bowl until combined. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is pale yellow – about 3 minutes. Beat in the flour.

Heat milk on the stove over moderate heat until it reaches the boiling point. Beat a small amount of milk into the egg mixture, to temper the eggs. Then pour in the rest of the milk and whisk vigorously.

Pour milk mixture into a sauce pan and heat over moderate heat. Stir slowly, until mixture begins to thicken and coagulate into a stiff paste. Beat vigorously over low heat for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour. Off the heat add the butter, vanilla and almond extracts, and almonds. Let cool. To prevent a skin from forming, cover custard with buttered parchment paper.

For the sugar crust:
1 1/3 cups flour
7 tbs sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
5 tbs butter, chilled
2 tbs shortening, chilled
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk together flour, sugar, and baking powder. With a pastry cutter, fork, or in a food processor, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture, until it resembles small oatmeal flakes. Blend in the egg and vanilla, until the dough forms a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

On a well floured work surface, roll dough until 1/8 inch thick. Transfer dough to a false-bottomed tart pan, pressing the dough into the corners of the pan with your fingers. Trim excess dough with a knife or kitchen shears, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang. Fold overhang over and press into the edges of the tart.

Line the tart with buttered foil, and place uncooked rice, dried beans, or pie weights on top of foil. Bake for 8-9 minutes, until the pastry is set. Remove tart from oven, remove foil and prick the bottom of the tart with a fork. Return tart to oven and bake for 7-10 minutes more, until the shell is very lightly browned. Let cool on a rack until completely cool.

For pears:
2 cups red wine
2 tbs lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 6 ripe, firm pears
1/4 cup red currant jelly (or other preserve – I used raspberry)

Bring wine, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a saucepan over moderate heat. Meanwhile, peel, halve, stem and core pears. When syrup is boiling, drop in pears and let simmer for 8-10 minutes, until pears are tender when pierced with a knife. Let pears cool in syrup for 20 minutes, then drain on a rack.

Rapidly boil down the syrup to the thread stage (230 degrees). Add jelly or preserves to the syrup and simmer until jelly has dissolved and syrup coats the back of a spoon with a light glaze.

Assemble tart:
Paint the inside of the tart shell with the pear and jelly syrup. Fill shell with the frangipane, smoothing with a spatula. Cut pears into crosswise or lengthwise slices and arrange them over the custard. Lightly glaze pears with some of the remaining jelly using a pastry brush.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

ksteiger December 14, 2009 at 10:20 am

Wow, this looks fantastic! I can’t wait to feature it in Daily Food Porn.


Rohit December 14, 2009 at 11:09 am

Nice recipe. I am a veg. Is there anything to replace egg and egg yolk?


orchidgirl1979 December 14, 2009 at 11:16 am

I was just going to say that I thought you did a really good job on cutting the pears :)
The color is beautiful!

I had a pear tart at Citronelle this weekend: it was one of my favorite desserts from the spread they had.


Toriano December 14, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Looks very tasty, thanks for sharing.


Sam December 14, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Great pictures! That looks yummy!


Gary December 14, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I agree!


Rebecca December 14, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Your pear cutting cannot be matched. Really it is amazing.


trinaramirez December 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Great photo shots of your food makin beauty.


shoegirl December 14, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I think you have excellent “pear slicing skills”! This tart looks divine…I want to try making it!


Lauren December 14, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I’m sorry, this doesn’t look appetizing.
I would not change the color of pears to red, especially
with their texture and appearance. Looks, at first glance,
like something from the inside of a human body.
Sorry, just my humble opinion!


moderndomestic December 14, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Hmmm, I bet you could poach the pears in white wine rather than red- that way the color won’t change as much. I actually rather like how they turned deep pink – but then I didn’t get the human body part association (I see what you mean, though).

I also feel like some of it is my pear slicing skills – I wish I would have sliced them thinner and then done more of a rosette thing, kind of like what I was going for in the center. More floral – less fleshy.


ashleythinks December 14, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Looks like sashimi!


moderndomestic December 14, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Jesus – I never would have thought of that but you’re so right! Bizzare.


Nonna Gorilovskaya December 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

A true work of art–and yummy too!


Martine Leveque December 15, 2009 at 2:01 am

I tried this recipe. It is yummy! You’ll be praised for this dessert. Guaranteed.


mary December 14, 2009 at 11:02 pm



murkmutt December 14, 2009 at 11:50 pm

oh! Have you watched Julie and Julia (movie) I love it. Bon Appetit! hahahah! wants to know more from you.


joypeace December 15, 2009 at 1:33 am

WOW~it looks so delicious! Thanks for sharing..


softballgirl78 December 15, 2009 at 1:41 am

Yum that sounds really good. Thanks for sharing!


Martine Leveque December 15, 2009 at 2:02 am



kaydee December 15, 2009 at 2:48 am

Oh that looks tasty! I was feeling inspired by Julie & Julia and might soon attempt my own cooking challenge. I may combine it with influence from a book title: Never Eat Alone, about networking. I’m contemplating a weekly dinner and inviting at least one friend over for dinner once a week, and making something new. Old friends, long lost friends and new friends… once I get back to NY that is, which may or may not be in January!


dan December 15, 2009 at 3:04 am

slUrp…i like it


Jean-Jacques December 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

It looks delicious, and not that French as such? Cinnamon in particular is something quite often used with pears in the US and the UK, a bit less I believe in France, at least in the South West where I come from.
My favourite pear dessert would rather combine pears and vanilla in pastry and is served warm with fresh cream. Not any cream, a somewhat nutty liquid cream like those “West Country” double creams you find in the UK (not to name any retail brands).
Thank you for this post, it gave me my own “blast from the past”, that memory of this pear pastry my mum used to make for family reunions.
Happy Christmas!


madnilk December 15, 2009 at 7:53 am

it sure great recipe – delicious :) hurmmmmmmmmmmmmm


katie o. December 15, 2009 at 8:35 am

I’m impressed! The presentation is beautiful (and your photography makes it look that much better)! And I think I’d have to agree…some of us just have enough time to put dinner on the table…let alone spend 4 hours on a sauce.


Wine Making December 15, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Excellent information here on wine, all aspects off. I do love pears !
I extremely enjoyed reading this, many thanks for sharing


lucylawson December 15, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Looks delicious and very festive! Can’t wait to try it


Alice December 15, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Where are the rest of the pears? I count six halves arranged on top, where are the other 6? Underneath?


moderndomestic December 15, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Oh my god – you’re right! Let me fix that. It’s three pears . . . six halves.


Alice December 19, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I made this tonight, it looks delicious! I’ll have to see how it turns out when I eat it at a dinner party later tonight.


Robin March 11, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Do you know if you can make any parts of this in advance and assemble in the end?


moderndomestic March 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Yes – I believe you could make the crust, filling, poach the pears, and make the syrup ahead of time. I bet you can even assemble 24 hours ahead and store in an airtight container in the fridge, and then let come to room temperature before serving.


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