Confession: I have a tart problem

Don’t judge me.  Tarts are tasty.  Also, before you look at the nummy photos, go answer yesterday’s market research question, please. My annual Halloween party happened last weekend.  Every year I decorate the house, cook a ton of food, and write up a customized murder mystery from scratch.  Every year I insist, “This is the year the party will be done on time and I’m in costume before the guests show up.” One of these years I won’t be delusional.  This year was not the year.  I blame the cold that crawled into my brain and ate it. Anyway, clearly the delicate and complicated logistical monstrosity that is the annual Halloween bash could only benefit from having half of the recipes come out of The Professional Pastry Chef.  After all, what’s Halloween if not a holiday that’s all about embracing horror, in all its forms?  So I went for it.  This was not nearly the disaster it should have been. Individual pear tarts looked awesome, so I went ahead and made those.  These tarts had yet another kind of shell, this time made out of puff pastry.  I’d never made puff pastry before, so that was going to be exciting.  Especially once I looked at the recipe and realized it works more or less the same way the danishes did.  This time, though, the instructions were more detailed, which was awesome. The butter block for this one involved beating butter with some flour and lemon juice and then shaping the softened butter into a block.  This is way, way better than what I tried to do with the butter block for the danishes.   I just had to turn that into this:   The next part was to mix up the dough, which would need to hang out in the fridge for half an hour before getting merged with the butter block.  The cookbook was full of specific instructions about how the butter block had to be of this exact consistency, and how I needed to time making the dough so that it finished resting just as the butter block chilled to the right point.  I stared at it for a bit, clueless about how on earth to do the timing.  How long will it take a block of butter, in my fridge, to hit this perfect stag?  I have no idea!  So I decided that it was probably the time it takes me to make dough, plus half an hour, and that I’d fake it from there if this was wrong.   Maybe it’s the season, but the dough, when I had it ready to rest, looked vaguely like a brain to me.  Am I crazy?  Well, yes, but I don’t think that makes me wrong. Here comes the fun part.  Roll out the dough, put a block of butter on top if it, and then force them into an arranged marriage of flaky awesome.   You’ll note my handy dandy tape measure was very present for this process.  It’s because I can’t judge distance by eye to save my life and any time this cookbook is willing to give me exact measurements for anything, I am so very going to obey it.   From there it was giving the dough turns, which meant folding it over and rolling it out, then putting it in the fridge to rest for a bit before doing it again.  This makes sure there are lots of layers of butter and dough, which is what makes the pastry flaky.  This was also pretty fun.  I could tell it was working this time, and I was brain dead, so doing something productive and simple was really pleasant.  Play with dough, cram some fresh Spanish vocab into my dead brain, play with dough.  Not a bad way to spend an evening.   I declare this the puff pastry of the gods. The recipe also required me to make pastry cream.  I didn’t bother taking pictures for that since I’d made it and documented it before.  This time it came out perfectly smooth and just as tasty, so that was nice. The final do-ahead step was to poach pears for the tarts.  This is where I ignored the recipe a bit – I used a poaching syrup more like what I usually do rather than the one in the book.  I didn’t see any reason to replicate what I found to be bland and unappealing just a week before.  Besides, it made the house smell like cinnamon for two days.   Day of, things got rather, uhm, hectic.  The correct term might be “criminally disorganized.”  I wound up actually putting guests to work when they had the gall to show up on time.  I’d be eternally humiliated, but given that I spent the weekend after the party on my couch and sucking down drugs until I was a jittery mess (cold medicine and I are not good friends) I think handing off the final food prep was probably the responsible decision.  At any rate, symmetry was not a high priority when it came time to assemble the tarts, so I just chopped up the puff pastry however was convenient and rolled with it.  We’ll call this presentation aesthetic “rustic.”

 

Top the pastry cream with pear halves, put tray into oven, and viola, tarts!

 

Served with caramel sauce.  These were a big hit, and justifiably.  The puff pastry baked up beautifully, and the pears worked really well with the pastry cream and the caramel sauce.  This I would definitely do again, which has been the trend for the tart recipes from this book.  Yummy.

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