This past weekend was the weekend of birthdays. My husband and my son have the privilege of sharing back-to-back birthdays. Matthew missed being born on Paul's 24th birthday by five hours. I was in labor with him for close to 40 hours and would have preferred if he had made his appearance a bit earlier. I still remember insisting on picking up pizza and an ice cream cake for Paul's birthday dinner that night even though I was experiencing contractions that were 5-minutes apart. I stumbled into Pizza Hut to pick up our large supreme pizza, heavily pregnant and obviously in pain, and had barely finished telling the 16-year-old girl working the cash register my name before being hit by another powerful contraction that forced me to double over, clutching onto the counter for support.
"Ma'am...are you alright? Do you need me to call someone?" the slightly frightened teenybopper asked.
After the contraction passed and I was able to speak again, I stood upright and gasped: "Oh no...everything's fine! My husband is waiting for me in the car."
I realized, in retrospect, that this probably made Paul seem like a real jerk. In reality, he was just humoring his bull-headed wife. I was trying to avoid going to the hospital.
Paul has said every year that he would not mind just merging his birthday with Matthew's, but I very much prefer celebrating them separately on their respective days. It's a bit of a headache preparing two different special dinners and desserts on back-to-back nights but it's worth it if the two men in my life enjoy their special days.
Paul's birthday requests are always a bit unique. I appreciate having the opportunity to prepare something a bit different and challenging, although at times the requests have left me cursing into the wee hours of the morning while trying to put the finishing touches on a very complicated recipe. Last year, Paul requested the most complicated layer cake I have ever made. While the results were well worth it, I was hoping for something a bit simpler this year. Luckily, he had his heart set on a Whiskey Pear Tart that he had spied in my Baked: Explorations cookbook.
The recipe, while a bit time-consuming, is simple and can be done in steps. The tart dough and poached pears were assembled the day before and allowed to hang out in the refrigerator until needed. The dough is then rolled, fitted into a tart pan, and baked. While the tart crust cools, the filling is made from almond paste, whipped butter, and whiskey. The filling is spread into the cooled crust, topped with the poached pears, and then baked until puffy and set. Finally, the poaching liquid for the pears is boiled down to the most magnificent, whiskey-laced glaze I have ever tried. Paul was eating it out of the pan by the spoonful while proclaiming: "Oh yes...this is amazing!" That glaze would be fantastic over ice cream or on top of waffles.
This dessert was fantastic - a real show stopper. We paired it with Creme Brulee ice cream which was a perfect accompaniment. Matthew loved the "Whissy pear tart" as well - eating every last bite while thanking Paul for sharing. Matthew operates under the assumption - and this was confirmed the next day on his birthday - that the birthday boy gets the entire dessert to himself.
Whiskey Pear Tart
adapted from Baked: Explorations
For the pears and poaching liquid:
2 (15-ounce) can pear halves in heavy syrup, about 6 halves
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons whiskey
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For the basic sweet tart dough:
¼ cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten
For the almond cream filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cool but not cold
8 ounces almond paste
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons whiskey
For the pear glaze:
Reserved syrup and reserved “poaching” liquid from pears
1 teaspoon whiskey
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
Make the pears and poaching liquid:
Strain the pears and reserve the heavy syrup from one of the cans (for the glaze) in a small, covered bowl or cup in the refrigerator.
In a medium, nonreactive bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, whiskey, sugar, and vanilla. Toss the pears with the liquid, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Make the sweet tart dough:
Put the sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until sandy (about 6 to 10 quick pulses). Add the egg and pulse just until the dough begins to form a mass. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic, and refrigerate it overnight (or for at least 1 hour).
Bake the crust:
Dust a work surface with a sprinkling of flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick into a round about 12 inches in diameter. Gently guide the dough into a 11-inch round tart pan, without pulling it, and lightly press it into place. Roll the rolling pin over the pan to trim off excess dough. Place the tart pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and fill it three-quarters full with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. Leave the oven on.
Make the almond cream filling:
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond paste on medium speed until the mixture is light, fluffy, and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the filling and turn the mixer to low. Drizzle in the whiskey and beat until it is combined. Spread the almond cream filling evenly over the cooled tart shell.
Drain the pear halves, reserving the soaking liquid, and arrange them decoratively on top of the almond cream. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up and sets and the crust turns golden brown. Let the tart cool on a wire rack while you make the glaze.
Make the pear glaze:
Place the syrup and soaking liquid in a medium pan over medium heat and gently boil until the liquid is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Remove it from the heat and whisk quickly and continuously for 1 minute to speed cooling. Add the whiskey and cornstarch and whisk to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat, bring the glaze to a boil, and cook it for 1 minute. Use a pastry brush to apply the glaze gently to the tart.
Remove the tart from the pan and serve it as soon as possible. The tart will keep at room temperature, well wrapped, for up to 3 days, but the crust will turn slightly soggy after the first day.