Chocolate Pear Tart

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This recipe was shared with me by a well-known foodie who lives in my area. She’d received it after attending a cooking school in Tuscany about 25 years ago. The recipe never got published, so I’m sharing.

This is the only dessert my husband has requested on more than one occasion. Oh, there might be an occasional bananas Foster request, depending on the season, but this tart is hands down his favorite dessert. And for good reason.

The pie has a dense chocolate crust, a layer of raspberry jam, pears, and a chocolate, meringue-like filling. What is not to love?

Use canned or jarred pear halves for this tart. Home-made poached pears would be lovely, but the other flavors are strong and I don’t think it would be worth the poaching. Raw pears would not be soft enough.

Chocolate Pear Tart

1 stick, or 4 ounces butter
2 cups white flour
2 eggs, whisked
2 cups sugar
2 cups unsweetened cocoa
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
2 egg whites
3 ounces seedless raspberry jam
2 – 29 ounce cans pear halves, drained well, dried
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons baking sugar

Make the dough by processing the butter, flour, egg, sugar, and cocoa, adding a few drops of water if necessary. I have had to place the mixture in a large bowl to moisten the dough before; it’s a large amount of dry to uniformly turn into a crust.

Butter and lightly flour a 11” pie tin with a removable bottom. Form a crust in the bottom by pressing and forming as neatly as possible, and chill in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler over barely simmering water until smooth. I remember reading that you are not “cooking” the chocolate when tempering, you are simply melting it. Set aside to cool.

Remove the pie tin from the refrigerator and spread the jam on the crust. Forming a concentric circle, place the best, most uniform-sized pears, inside down, on the jam layer. You can form one last pear into a round and place it in the middle of the tart.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is thick, about 5-6 minutes. Whip the egg whites until stiff and set aside.

Gently fold in the chocolate and egg whites into the yolk and sugar mixture.

Pour the chocolate filling over the pears and smooth. Bake for about 40 minutes.

If desired, serve with whipped cream.

When I mentioned that the recipe calls for an 11″ tart pan, it’s important. I could only find a 10″, and the resulting tart is not as pretty.

The tops of the pears should not be covered in chocolate meringue, the tops of the pears should be bare.

You can still see all of the wonderful elements of this tart, and know how good it is, but it’s just not as pretty as it should be. Plus, I slightly undercooked the tart, which accounts for some of the oozing chocolate and raspberry jam. But don’t be discouraged, because I’ve made this before with no issues at all, and I’m no baker!

Smoked Salmon Quesadillas

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Back when I catered, I once created a quesadilla bar for a smallish party. It was a lot of work, with two skillets going, but the guests enjoyed choosing their custom ingredients and their ooey gooey appetizers.

If my memory serves, I had chicken, beef, and shrimp, peppers and onions, tomatoes and mangos, good cheeses, plus cilantro. There are just so many options with quesadillas.

On this blog I’ve posted on what I’d call traditional, southwestern-style quesadillas, which I’ve made a lot over the years, especially when my kids were home. I love serving them with both red and green salsas.

With flour tortillas that get extra crispy in butter, and all of the cheesy goodness inside, you hardly need anything else. But I do. And smoked salmon quesadillas are a perfect example of going beyond the traditional quesadilla.

Smoked Salmon Quesadillas
Makes 3 – 8″ quesadillas

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 ounces soft goat cheese like chèvre, at room temperature
1 generous tablespoon chopped chives
1 generous tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
6 – 8” flour tortillas
12 ounces grated mozzarella
6 ounces high quality smoked salmon
Butter, about 3 generous tablespoons

Mix together the cream cheese and goat cheese along with the chives and parsley until smooth. Don’t overstir.

In a 12” skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for about 5 minutes. Remove the cooked shallots to a small bowl, and keep the skillet on the stove. Get out a lid that works with the skillet as well as a large metal spatula.

Set out a large cutting board for cutting the quesadillas, and a serving platter.

Spread the soft cheese on all 6 tortillas.

Then add the slices of smoked salmon to 3 “bottom” tortillas, and top the salmon with 1/3 of the cooked shallots on each of the 3 tortillas.

When ready to start cooking, have all of the tortillas, tops and bottoms, the grated mozzarella, and butter on hand. It’s best to be fully prepared.

Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter; some browning is good. Carefully place the bottom tortilla in the skillet, tortilla side down, then immediately add a generous amount of grated cheese, about 4 ounces per quesadilla, followed by the top tortilla (that only has the soft cheese spread on it.) Press gently on the quesadilla.

If the tortilla has crisped up golden on the bottom, carefully turn over the quesadilla using a heavy spatula. Press down on it with the spatula, then cover the skillet, turn down the heat and put on the lid.

The heat is lowered to allow the cheeses to melt thoroughly and the quesadilla to heat through.
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Carefully place the quesadilla to the cutting board. Add more butter to the skillet, turn up the heat, and repeat with the remaining 2 quesadillas.

Let the quesadillas rest for at least five minutes before cutting up like a pizza, using a long knife or pizza cutter, then layer onto a serving platter.

Cover with a clean towel to keep them warm, but keep it loose. You want to retain the crispiness of the tortillas, which is why it’s best to work fast.

As an appetizer, these will serve quite a few people; they’re quite rich.

Keep in mind that these alone are fabulous with a rosé or Prosecco, or better yet, a sparkling rosé!

And if you prefer, use raw shallots instead of sautéed. Even capers can be used in the quesadillas.

You can play with my version of these quesadillas, but I highly suggest you stick to my cheeses because they’re mild. You want to taste the luscious smoked salmon in these.

Oeufs à la Neige

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My mother visited my husband and I once in 1982 after we moved to Houston, Texas. We had made dinner reservations at a well-known French restaurant in order to treat her to a fine dining experience during her stay, even though it was very expensive for us back then.

The first part of the dinner is a big blur, and not because it was so long ago or I drank too much. It’s because a giant cockroach appeared on the wall behind my mother. Being new to Houston, I was still not well acquainted with these monsters people referred to as Tree Roaches. Unfortunately my eyes must have revealed too much, because my mother turned around and saw the darn thing, right before it took flight over her head. So I think that a huge part of the meal was more about assuaging my mother that these creatures lived in south Texas, and we all need to co-exist. (Of course, I was downright mortified, not being a fan of creepy crawlies.)

My mother didn’t especially love the dinner or the waiter, and she never embraced the cockroach. But we wanted the dinner to end on a high note, so we all three ordered Oeufs à la Neige.

My husband and I were in dessert heaven – this fabulous crème Anglaise topped with soft egg white clouds – an unbelievable dessert. My mother hated it. She announced that she would make it for us the right way. And the next day, that’s just what she did.

I didn’t think this dessert could be better than at the restaurant, but it was oh, so much better. I don’t remember why it was so much better, but it just was. So in posting this recipe I hope I am doing justice to my mother and the real Oeufs à la Neige, the way it is meant to be.

Oeufs à la Neige

4 cups whole milk, approximately
6 large, fresh eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 1/4 cups white sugar, divided into 3/4, 1/4, and 1/4 cups
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour three cups of milk into a large, wide saucepan. Begin heating the milk over fairly low heat; you don’t need it to boil.

Place the six egg whites in a large bowl. Beat the whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Then add 3/4 cup of sugar a little at a time, along with a pinch of salt. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

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Make sure the milk in the saucepan in hot before you begin making the meringues. Then, using two large spoons, form quenelle-shaped blobs, or egg-shaped blobs of meringue and place them on top of the hot milk. As you can tell in the photo, mine are neither quenelle- or egg-shaped. They are simply blobs and that’s fine. And, they should preferably not touch.

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Cook the meringues about 2 minutes, then gently turn them over and cook them another 2 minutes. Then carefully remove them from the milk and place them on paper towels to drain.

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Continue until you’ve used up all of the meringue. Strain out any large blobs of meringue that are visible in the milk. Then add about 1 cup more of milk to the saucepan; there should be about 3 cups all together. I just eyeballed it, but if you prefer, strain the milk, measure it, and add the exact amount more to make a total of three cups.

Place the saucepan back on the stove over low heat, and whisk in 1/4 cup sugar until it dissolves. Now you have the sweetened, hot milk, and your bowl of egg yolks.

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Using the electric mixer with the same beaters, whisk the egg yolks until they’re smooth. Slowly introduce some of the hot milk to the yolks, mixing it in quickly so the eggs don’t cook in the hot milk. Just be slow and patient. You’ll probably use about 1 cup of milk by the time this process is complete. At that point, return the egg yolk and milk mixture to the saucepan and whisk to combine.

This next step requires that you have everything ready to go – a large serving bowl topped with a strainer, a whisk, a spoon, and a rubber spatula. Over fairly low heat, cook the custard, whisking all the time, just until the point that you can tell it thickened up. Use your spoon to quickly dip it into the custard, then draw a line with your finger down the middle of the spoon. If the sides stay separate, the custard is perfect!!!

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Whisk in the vanilla extract, then immediately pour the custard through the strainer and into the serving bowl. Use your rubber spatula to get the custard out of the saucepan, but if you see cooked custard on the bottom, leave it alone. If you’ve done a good job, there will be no blobs of overcooked custard in your strainer!

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If you’re going to be serving the custard fairly warm (it’s also good cold), let the custard cool a bit. Then gently top the custard gently with the meringues.

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Some people serve Oeufs à la Neige just like this, but I like to go a little step further and add caramel. If you have some purchased caramel, feel free to drizzle a little over each serving, maybe thinned a bit if necessary.

However, I just made my caramel by melting the final 1/4 cup of sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Let the sugar slowly melt into caramel. This is the same process as when you make Crème Caramel.

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Then just drizzle the hot caramel over the top of the meringues. I’m not that artistic, so this is the best I could do!

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This kind of caramel will harden, so it adds a little interest to the dessert, as well.

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Note: You could also scrape out seeds from vanilla beans for the vanilla flavor. I just didn’t wanted the custard speckled today, and I am out of vanilla beans. There’s also vanilla paste and vanilla powder, if you prefer those to the vanilla extract.