Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ordered Pear Pie (aka Pear Frangipane Tart)

Few people know this, but I happen to have been Fox Lane High School's Biology Student of the Year for 1991. It's not a fact I bust out all the time -- I don't want friends to feel inadequate about their own lack of two-decades'-old scientific achievement -- but it represents a small yet significant part of me. I also subscribed to Ranger Rick magazine all through my formative years, and recently took an Anatomy & Physiology class for kicks. Which is all to say that beneath this unassuming exterior beats the heart of a science nerd. So when I heard about the practice of Pi Day, wherein scientists and bakers come together for a deliciously pun-tastic day of pastry on March 14th (Get it - 3.14?), I couldn't resist.

Sandwiched between the heavy pumpkin pies of winter and the first berry tarts of spring, March isn't usually prime pie season. In fact, pretty much the only fruit in season near me is canned fruit. Luckily, I've got that in spades.

And, because I can't leave well enough alone, I needed to add my own groan-inducing science-themed "humor" to the occasion. I dug up a quart of lightly-spiced canned pears from last fall, which led to thoughts about mathematical pairs. Namely, ordered pairs. Last fall I played around with a pear frangipane tart, with a splay of poached pears pinwheeling on top of a cushion of marzipan-like almond frangipane custard. While my pears don't have the standardized mappable coordinates of classic ordered pairs, they do feature a precise fractal-like placement and beauty (at least until the frangipane puffs around them -- you can go with a thicker frangipane or fewer pears if you want the ordered placement to stand out, but I tend to err on the side of tenderness and lots of fruit).

Some sticklers will argue that with its crumbly-not-flaky patee sucre short crust and straight-sided pan, this would be more accurately described as a tart than a pie. But as it's been noted, they are close enough cousins. And Pi Day is not about divisions -- it's about bringing us together around a love of math. And pie.

Pear Frangipane Tart (aka Ordered Pair Pie)

adapted from the Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my Home to Yours (is there anything that book can't do?) with further crust-tweaking from Smitten Kitchen

I used a quart of canned pears, probably about 3-4 pears' worth. You can used canned pears, or poach your own using the instructions on
this recipe. Four pears is a pretty pear-heavy dessert -- if you'd like it to be a bit more like a traditional dessert, use two pears, and make half again as much frangipane (otherwise you'll have a gap of empty crust).

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces1 egg

Filling and Finishing:
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp flour
1 tsp cornstarch
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract1 1/2 tsp almond extract
~3 canned pears, sliced in whatever fashion you find prettiest

To make the crust:
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter, and pulse until oatmeal-sized pebbles form. Add the egg, and pulse until it just starts to come together (do not over-mix). Turn the dough into a bowl or lightly-floured work surface, and knead until it finishes coming together and seems uniformly moistened. Shape into a chubby disk, cover in plastic, and chill for ~2 hours.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and allow to soften for ~5-10 minutes, until roll-able. Place between sheets of plastic, parchment or waxed paper, and roll out until it forms a circle large enough for your tart pan. Press into a greased pan, and pierce (aka "dock") with a fork in a few places. If your tart pan is metal, throw it in the freezer for half an hour. If your tart pan is ceramic, and you don't want it to shatter from going from freezer to oven, toss it back in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the chilled crust from the freezer or refrigerator. Butter a tart-sized piece of foil, and press it against the crust (no pie weights required, which is good because you probably don't own any). Bake 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, until the crust is beginning to turn light brown. If any air bubbles form, you can release the air with a fork and push them down. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool while you prepare the filling.

To make frangipane and finish the pie:

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Combine the butter, sugar, almond meal and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Sprinkle in the flour and cornstarch, pulse, then add the egg and egg white and extracts, and process again until very smooth.

Spread the frangipane gently on the cooled crust, and arrange the pears on top in any fashion you like (ordered or not). Bake until the frangipane puffs and turns golden, and feels firm to the touch, ~45-50 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.


  1. Love your pair/pear pi (pie). We had a pi day celebration here in Princeton, home of Einstein himself.

  2. Oh my god, Deena. I often feel impressed by your enormous brain and the delicious food you cook, but suddenly you've vaulted to a new level of radiantly foody nerdiness (nerdy foodiness?) that inspires me to awe. Ordered pears. I have to go sit down in a quiet place and rest for a while.

    Sara W

  3. Linda: I forgot that Pi day is also Einstein's birthday! I imagine the Princeton bash out-dorks us all. And your comment led me to your blog, which led me to drooling. Oh my.

    Sara: Sorry to have overloaded you with the radiance of my nerdiness. I'm glad that your reaction is "impressed" rather than "will no longer acknowledge our friendship publicly."

  4. PLEASE tell me you don't actually have green grass...

    Dorie's book is one of my favorites, and as for Pi day, or PIE day, I worked at Gina's Pies Are Square in rural Wilton Wisconsin for a couple of years, so named for my boss's ex-husband's mathematical leanings. We always had a pie special on March 14, pie with a scoop of ice cream for $3.14... And I would have opted for her Guinness Oatmeal Stout pie, which is as close to seasonal as you can probably get!

    As for your tweaking of Pear Frangipane Tart, it really looks terrific, and ordered enough to satisfy the math geeks. Nice work!

  5. That is indeed the green grass of Portland - needs cutting, in fact. Hello, Spring!

    Your pie joint memories sound lovely. I remember stopping by some famous pie place in Osseo, Wisconsin on the way to a College Bowl tournament in Madison (I wasn't kidding about the geekiness), only to discover that the secret to their crust was butter-flavored Crisco. Sigh. That Guinness Oatmeal Stout pie sounds nuts.

  6. That would be the famous pie of the Norske Nook. Yes Crisco, but worth it? Probably. I made the Guinness Pie today... just got to post it! No Crisco - just Dorie's crust which is fantastic! Can't believe I never tried it before.

  7. Beautiful pie!
    And green grass. Sigh
    I think Portland is my secret home.