Sometimes the visual element of cooking is so overpowering that how a dish tastes becomes nearly an afterthought. This pear clafoutis (pronounced claw-foo’-tee) looks as if it belongs in a Dutch still life, with ethereal-looking Bosc pears poking out of a golden custard as if they’re rising from the earth. It evokes a primal memory, like Stonehenge or Carnac: the solstice beckons.
Emerson once said “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” That is the key to this recipe. You need to buy perfectly ripe pears, or have the patience to wait until they are ready (never my strong suit). I find that shopping at a farmer’s market gives me a better range of produce to choose from, and it’s easier to get just the right pears, and use them the same day.
I used a spring form pan to bake this instead of a tart or pie pan, because I wanted the crust to be high enough to support a deep pillow of custard. Clafoutis is a baked French dessert, usually involving cherries baked into custard. I used the pears because that’s what’s good now, and because I like the drama of the presentation. This is a more complicated recipe than I would normally post, but sometimes it’s fun to give something new a try. There’s not really any part of this recipe that can go wrong, but it does involve several hours of preparation time.
Prep time: 1 ½ hours, plus 2 ½ hours for dough to chill
For the pastry dough:
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup cake flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 ounces chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup chilled vegetable shortening
- ½ cup ice water
- Put flour, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse several times to break up the butter.
- Add shortening. Turn on machine and pour in ice water and pulse several more times. Dough should be lumpy but still hold together when pressed in your hand.
- Working fast to keep the dough cool, turn it out onto a floured board, knead dough long enough to see it well-combined and form into one smooth piece of dough.
- Refrigerate in a plastic bag for two hours.
Note: This is more dough than you will need for a single 9-inch pie pan. However, if you use a spring form pan, as I did, and you want to push the dough up the sides of the pan, this will give you enough dough to do that.
For the poached pears:
- 6-8 Bosc pears, peeled and with stem left on
- 2 cups white wine
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 orange, the zest and juice
- 1 lemon, the zest and juice
- Peel pears. In a large, high-sided pan, mix white wine, water, sugar, orange and lemon juice, and zest.
- Submerge pears immediately in poaching liquid, to avoid discoloration.
- Simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and remove pears. Drain pears and return poaching liquid to a boil. Reduce liquid by half.
For the custard:
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup of the poaching liquid
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- Whisk custard ingredients together and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and press into the bottom and several inches up the sides of a greased, spring form pan.
- Fold down extra dough to make the sides of the pastry extra sturdy.
- Cover the pastry shell in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- When dough is chilled, remove plastic wrap, line pastry with foil, and fill with dried beans or pie weights.
- Bake for 15 minutes and remove from oven.
- Allow pastry to cool. Stand the poached pears in the shell and pour the custard mixture around them.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the custard is firm.
Glaze for pears:
- ½ cup poaching liquid
- ½ cup apricot jam
- Mix poaching liquid and apricot jam together and cook on low heat until it thickens, about ten minutes.
- Brush glaze gently on to pears after baking. Serve.