I learned the technique of browning the butter for the custard in a fruit tart in my first professional pastry class. Combined with the freshly ground cardamom (very important) in this pear tart, it creates an unexpected warmth and depth of flavor. The positioning of the pears on the tart shell makes it pleasing to the eye, as well. For the crust, I have included both the “By Hand” method and the food processor method for the dough. Try them both and see which suits you best. - ChefJune
There are a couple of smarty-pants tricks to make this tart sublime: 1) grind cardamom pods fresh for a real pop of flavor, and 2) be sure to let your unsalted butter get brown enough that you can smell the nuttiness, then get it off the heat at once. Be advised also that salted butter will not brown. —ChefJune
Test Kitchen Notes
Yum! I am a lover of tarts and this was delicious. The brown butter added a lovely nutty hue and it had just the right sweetness. The crust was very simple to make but I found it's best kneaded lightly. I used a tart pan that was 9.5" not 11", and would recommend putting the tart pan on a baking sheet; butter will seep out during cooking. I agree with ChefJune about freshly-ground cardamom; I used 12 small pods to get 1/2 teaspoon. I will definitely make this again. Loved it! —Victoria Ross
1. By hand: Stir dry ingredients together with a fork. Drop in cut-up fat, and cut into flour with a pastry blender, fork, 2 knives, or with cool fingertips until fat particles are very small and thoroughly coated with flour. Gradually stir in liquid with a fork until dough holds together when squeezed with your fingertips. [It is better to add a little too much liquid than not enough since slightly wet dough is easily rectified by the addition of more flour. Dough that is too dry will crack and crumble when it is rolled out.] Gather into a ball, flatten into a disc about 3/4-inch thick, and refrigerate after wrapping well. “Resting” is necessary to allow the gluten to settle so your dough will roll out evenly and easily.
1a. By food processor: Using metal blade, add all dry ingredients to work bowl. Process for 2 seconds to blend. Add VERY COLD cut up fat. Process with about 8 short bursts, until fat is in small pieces, evenly distributed and well coated with flour. Position liquid over feed tube, turn machine on, and gradually pour liquid in until dough begins to come together, but before it forms a ball. Prepare for refrigeration as before.
See step 2 in the filling and assembly section.
Filling and Assembly
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine cardamom, sugar, flour, eggs and Cognac until well blended. Stir in browned butter. Set aside.
Divide dough into 2 or 3 pieces if it’s still cold, and knead gently between hands until malleable. Roll the whole mass together out on a lightly floured surface. Carefully transfer into 11-inch tart pan. Refrigerate until pears are prepared.
Peel, quarter and core pears. Slice lengthwise in 1/4-inch slices, leaving them connected -- if possible -- at the "neck" end of the pears, and gently open into a fan shape. Arrange on the chilled crust to resemble a flower petal pattern. Pour custard over pears. Bake in the preheated oven about 1 hour, or until browned. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.
In season, red raspberries or tiny wild strawberries make a colorful garnish.