Don't get me wrong, I too hate those stiff and pompous occasions when people are too fearful to enjoy the food because they are worried about which bread plate is theirs**. But, old-fashioned as I may be, I relish the chance to lay a table properly. I love rummaging at antique fairs and flea markets searching for beautiful and unusual tableware and I am probably one of the few twenty-somethings who grapple with the question of whether writing people's names on dried leaves with gold pen is a step too far***. Sitting around a beautiful table (even when the plates are a mixture of flea market and Ikea) is a chance to satisfy creative urges and celebrate the aesthetic.
If you want to make this in advance you can make the pastry and the almond cream ahead and freeze them. Bear in mind that the pears should be left to infuse overnight.
- The night before, peel the pears, cut them in half and remove the cores. Place them in a bowl and cover them with 3tbsp lemon juice.
- Put 1 litre of water, 3tbsp lemon juice and the vanilla into a pan and bring the liquid to the boil. Add the pears and put a circle of greaseproof paper on top while you let them simmer for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool and then cover and leave the pears to infuse overnight. I think adding some amaretto to the liquid could also add to the flavour.
- The next day, make the pastry. Put the flour, a pinch of salt and the fats into your food processor and add the flour (you can do this by hand if you prefer). Pulse the mixture to make breadcrumbs. Don't be tempted not to add any water even if the mixture is coming together - the pastry will be a nightmare to handle. Add enough cold water to bring the pastry into a ball. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill in the fridge.
- Meanwhile make the almond cream. Soften the butter with a wooden spoon. You don't want to beat air into it like a cake, you just want to soften it. Add the icing sugar, cornflour and ground almonds and mix well. Add the egg and mix it in. Finally pour in the amaretto and the creme fraiche and stir until the mixture is silky smooth.
- Roll out your pastry and line a 8.5 inch tart tin. You don't need to bake the pastry blind so add the almond cream and smooth the surface. Arrange the strained pears on top, core side down.
- Put the tart in a preheated oven (180 degrees) and bake it for 30 minutes.
- Once the tart is cooked allow it to cool and remove it from the pan. It is important to let the tart cool before you serve it, otherwise the almond cream won't be set properly.
- Heat the apricot jam in a pan until it is liquid and then brush it over the surface of the tart.
* T.S. Eliot bastardized. I apologise.
** Go for the one on the left.
*** I haven't been brave enough yet, but one day I will.