Years ago Bill and I used to frequent a tiny restaurant featuring the cuisine of Northern Italy. The name of the place was Nonna Cherubina.
The husband and wife - Luigi and Stephania - who owned and ran the place (and lived above it) were warm and kind and welcoming. We always felt like family there.
There were a few years - after we'd moved to a different neighborhood and had two babies - when we didn't go out to eat there at all. And then, a few years ago, we discovered that Nonna Cherubina had closed. I heard that Luigi and Stephania had moved to Spain. And that was the end of a little period in our lives.
The food was fabulous, every time. So were the desserts. One evening one of the desserts offered was a pear and chocolate tart. I tried it, and it was delicious. I never forgot it - the uncommon combination of flavors, and the simplicity and beauty of it.
Well, a while ago when I was making my poached pears for this post, I started thinking about that pear and chocolate tart. I didn't remember it perfectly, but I thought I could at least make something kind of similar.
So here's what I came up with.
First, I poached the pears.
I didn't poach them whole, like I'd done for that other dessert. And I didn't use red wine this time, either. I wanted them white, to better contrast with the dark chocolate.
For the poaching liquid, I used 3 cups of water, 2 cups of sweet wine (2 different kinds that Bill's nephew brought back from Germany recently),
1/2 cup of sugar, the peeled zest of a lemon, and about a 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, sliced,
and two teaspoons of vanilla.
I put all of that in a pot and brought it to a boil.
While the poaching liquid was heating up, I peeled two firm pears...
And then sliced them in half...
trimmed the ends off slightly, and continued to slice each half lengthwise, into 1/8-1/4 inch thick slices. (I cut around the little seed area where necessary.)
And when the poaching liquid had reached a boil, I added the pear slices and let the liquid come back to the boil.
Once the liquid reached a boil, I shut the heat off and just let everything sit there for an hour and a half or so. I didn't want to cook the pears too much - they were thin slices and I didn't want them to turn mushy.
I removed the pears from the liquid and put them in a smaller bowl on the counter to finish cooling down, and then I removed any remaining pieces of ginger and lemon peel, covered the pears with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge.
Next up - the crust.
I wanted nuts in the tart crust - I figured they would add some crunch, and nuts go great with both chocolate and pears, so why not?
I used 3/4 cup of ground almonds, 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of salt, 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar, 1 stick of unsalted butter (chilled and cut into little cubes), 1/4 cup of vegetable shortening (also chilled, also cut into little cubes), and somewhere around 6-8 T of ice water to make the dough.
First I combined the almonds, flour, salt, and sugar in the food processor and pulsed to combine.
Then I added the chilled cubes of butter and pulsed 5-6 times.
And then the shortening and another 5-6 pulses.
To that I gradually added the ice water - a tablespoon or two and then a pulse...tablespoon and a pulse...until the dough just came together.
I wrapped the dough in plastic and put that in the fridge to chill.
After half an hour or more (I don't remember exactly), I took the dough out of the fridge and divided it in half. I rolled the first half out so it was large enough to line my 8" round tart pan...
I folded it into quarters...
Placed the dough so that the point of the fold was in the center of the tart pan...
Unfolded the dough and pressed it gently into the corners of the pan...
And then trimmed off the excess.
I did the same thing, more or less, with the other half of dough and my rectangular tart pan.
And then, since I was going to prebake these tart shells, I docked the dough with a fork.
Docking means piercing the dough with many small holes so that steam can escape while it's cooking and you won't end up with a great big pastry bubble in your pan.
I baked the shells at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.
And last, but certainly not least - the chocolate part.
I made a bittersweet ganache - actually, I made a LOT of a bittersweet ganache. I still have half of it in the fridge. It calls to me in the night...
Anyway, here's what I used:
1 quart of heavy cream/whipping cream (same thing)
24 oz good bittersweet chocolate
4 T unsalted butter
4 T sugar
I put the cream, sugar and butter in a pot and started heating it on medium.
While that was heating up, I broke my chocolate into pieces an put them in a large stainless steel bowl.
Once the sugar had dissolved, the butter melted, and the cream mixture started to boil, I poured all of that into my bowl of chocolate.
Then I stirred it and stirred it...
and the chocolate melted and melted...
And once the chocolate was all melted, and the mixture was nice and dark, I poured it all through a strainer (just to get any tiny bits of unmelted chocolate out) and then poured the ganache into my two tart shells.
I let these sit out on the counter until the ganache had completely cooled and was starting to firm up a little bit.
I dried off the pear slices on some paper towels and then arranged them on top of the tarts.
I could have used more pears, I suppose, and really overlapped them tightly so they'd look like a flower or something, but the ginger-lemon flavor of the pears was pretty strong, and I didn't want to upset the balance between that and the chocolate. And also, I only had 2 pears anyway. heh heh.
I put both tarts in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours before slicing them and serving.
Julia and Alex had some after dinner last night.
They both liked it. In fact, Alex just asked for a piece a moment ago - for a snack.
The spicy tartness of the pears, the smooth and rich chocolate ganache, and the crispy, nutty tart shell.
It's not exactly the way I remember the other tart,
but I'm still pretty pleased with it.