Last week I teased you a bit with the mention of a tarte Belle-Hélène. Of course it isn’t much of a tease if you don’t know what a tarte Belle-Hélène is. Just to get everyone up to speed, Belle-Hélène on a French menu signifies pears and chocolate, be it a simple sundae or a fancy entremet. A tarte Belle-Hélène is basically a variation on the classic pear-frangipane (almond cream) tart, with thick chocolate ganache spread over the pears on the baked tart. It is one of those great desserts that manages to be both rustic and elegant at the same time. So that’s what I wanted to make with my first batch of CSA pears.
It turned out that we had a last-minute dinner invite that weekend, and, as usual, I volunteered to bring dessert. (Nobody ever seems to mind being a dessert guinea pig.) I started with a sweet version of the whole wheat pastry crust I raved about earlier this summer. I parbaked it while poaching some pears in a mixture of white wine, water, sugar, lemon, and vanilla bean.
Prior to the pear prep, I was wishing I had a melon baller (ironic other name: Parisian scoop) for coring the pear halves. After a few days searching came up fruitless, I realized that with pears as juicy and ripe as these, I could probably get away with using my teaspoon to core them. And I was right. Yay for multitasking kitchen tools! The peeled and cored pear halves were then gently simmered for about 5 minutes, until they were completely tender. I carefully removed them to a rack to drain. (I saved the poaching liquid to use again.)
Then I set about making the filling for the tart. Traditionally, it is made with almond frangipane, but I thought that hazelnuts would be a delicious twist on the classic. So I made hazelnut cream – a straightforward ratio of equal parts butter, sugar, hazelnut meal, and egg – instead. I spread it into my baked, cooled tart shell, and sliced up the pears in order to fan them out in an attractive manner over the tart. Like so:
As the tart baked, the hazelnut filling puffed up around the edges of the pears, welcoming them in and holding them securely in place. Meanwhile, I was making a ganache with some 70% chocolate, cream, butter, and a bit of poaching liquid. I wanted the ganache to have ample time to cool down before I tried to smooth it over the pears on the tart. But it had too much time, and just when we were supposed to be leaving for our friends’ place, I was having a ganache crisis. I heated it up for a few seconds in the microwave, but that was too much, so I had to pop it in the freezer, and somewhere along the line it broke, so I had to bust out the immersion blenderto try to fix it which fortunately worked and finally I could put the ganache on the tart like I do every morning at work – I mean this shouldn’t have been a big deal – whew! I topped the ganache with a sprinkling of crushed, toasted hazelnuts, and we were out the door.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.