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Rachel’s recipes: Pear tarte tatin with ginger and star anise

Fully ripe pears are one of my favorite things…a ripe pear and some blue cheese…who needs more? Pears poached in red wine…so beautiful and so simple. A pear, blue cheese and baby spinach leaf salad – just add some walnuts! So now when the markets are full of pears seize them!

I’ve sort of come to aniseed late in life. Never convinced by Pernod, put off Pastis in my adolescent years for some strange reason, I finally succumbed when living in Turkey. Ice cold “raki”, fish restaurants by the Bosphorus, the freshest fish ever, mazes of mezze….I gained a taste for it. So when my mum started waxing lyrical about star anise and all the things she was doing with it, I thought I would have a go. My favorite pairing is with quince – poached quince with star anise and cardamom…divine! And really this is in a similar vein…a sort of subtle spice flavor that is a bit less mainstream than cinnamon. I quite like poached pears with bay leaves and black pepper and (back to Mum again) my Mum always jars her pears in a sugar and vinegar mix with assorted fragrant leaves and spices. As kids we used to open them and eat them with custard or ice cream. Yum!

In fact this is my tarte tatin recipe for apples, pears or quinces (except that with quinces you need to poach them for 2-4 hours until they turn a beautiful rosy red) so feel free to experiment and spice things up!

Ingredients for One Tarte Tatin

8 firm pears

100g sugar

100g 82% butter

2 star anise

3 cardamom pods

50g of fresh ginger finely chopped

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp brandy

1 packet of “foietaj” – you will need approx 300-400g

Gadgets & Gizmos

If you don’t own a special tarte tatin pan (and even the inner gadgetista inside me struggles to justify a one dish pan) what you need is an all metal frying pan that you can put under a grill/in an oven, approx 20cm wide. All well and good except do resist the instinctive temptation to grasp the handle when red hot! I haven’t tried a rectangular tarte tatin but have a feeling a metal baking dish would work well…something to try next time…

How To

1. Set the oven to 180C

2. Core the pears and peel them. Cut them into quarters or slices or just halves – as you prefer.

3. Tip the sugar, butter, star anise, chopped ginger and cardamom into the frying pan and place over a high heat until bubbling. Shake the pan and stir the buttery sauce until it separates and the sugar caramelizes to a toffee color. I have always loved making caramel but you need to really go for it and let the caramel develop. If you stop when its too pale there wont be enough flavor…make it too dark and you have a burnt taste. An obligatory word of warning here – sugar burns at a very high temperature – caramel is very very hot. Not really one for small kids to try out.

4. Lay the pears in the pan, then cook in the sauce (lower the temperature) for 10-12 mins, tossing occasionally, until completely caramelized. Splash in your brandy and let it flambé. Place somewhere to cool down.

5. Un-roll the pastry (I find that the thickness as it comes out of the packet is just right so no need to roll it…just cut a circle). The left over pastry can be folded over in little pieces with some jam inside to make jam puffs. Using a plate slightly larger than the top of the pan, cut out a circle.

6. When the pan and the pears are cool enough to handle with your bare hands (but still warm) arrange the pears artistically to look like snug flower petals. If you can arrange the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods that’s great but usually I am in a rush and kind of leave them as they fall.

7. Drape your pastry over the pears, then tuck the edges down the pan sides and under the fruit. Pierce the pastry a few times, then bake for 25 minutes until nicely brown on top. I put the pan on a baking tray to catch any bubbling juices. Leave the tart to stand for 15 minutes and run a knife around the pastry to make sure it has not stuck. Place a plate larger than the frying pan over the top and invert. Bravely lift the pan off. Sometimes the odd pear or apple does adhere to the pan – worry not! Just carefully nudge it off with a knife and pop it back in place.

Eat slightly warmed with some good “smantana” (sour cream).

By Rachel Sargent, Guest Writer 

Rachel Sargent is the chef and owner of the London Street Bakery, which offers healthy seasonal food. More about it here.

(photo credits: Rachel Sargent)