“After playing with a few ideas, I’ve decided on “Herbs and Spices” as the theme. I think there’s a lot of possibilities there. Obviously a lot of spices go well with pies (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger etc) but there’s lots of room for creativity: orange-cardamom, chocolate-cayenne, pink peppercorn-grapefruit, etc. And I’m also excited to see what people do with herbs. Pairings like blueberries and fresh mint or strawberries and basil could be delicious, and herbs like lavender and lemon verbena are getting more popular. There are also lots of opportunities for savory pies and tarts with this theme. “
Let me tell you … after reading this month’s theme I developed a serious mental block. Where do I start …..
After much thought, I decided to begin by picking the herbs/spices I wanted to bake with. I also made the committment to do a “sweet” pie, rather than a savory, to kick up the challenge factor a bit!
I began by researching “classic” combinations of herbs. Ultimately, it was Herbes de Provence that provided the inspiration for my Cinnamon Thyme Poached Pear Tart with Lavender Whipped Cream. Experts disagree as to exactly which herbs should be included in the traditional, dried, aromatic blend. No matter what the combination, I did find a common thread. All seemed to agree that thyme and lavender were essential. A bit more reading revealed that thyme and lavender were both members of the fragrant mint family! So there I had it … finally … THYME and LAVENDER it would be.
(Crust recipe by John Besh)
Vegetable oil spray (I used olive oil spray)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk mixed with 4 tablespoons of ice water
1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 11 inch tart pan with a removable bottom with vegetable oil. In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar and salt and pulse once or twice until combined. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas. Lift the lid and sprinkle with the egg yolk mixture. Pulse until the dough is crumbly.
2. Pour the dough into the prepared tart pan and press to form an even crust. Use a flat-bottomed glass dipped in flour to tamp it down. (I used my fingers and a flat bottomed glass.) Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 25 minutes until it is golden brown. (I buttered the shiny side of a piece of foil and put it buttered side down over the crust and then filled with beans to keep the crust from puffing. At 15 minutes into the baking I removed it. Placed my tart pan on a sheet pan to bake.) Cool on a rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
4 large, ripe, firm pears such as Bosc, Bartlett or D’Anjou (I used Bosc.)
1 cup pear nector (I used Looza brand.)
1 cup water
3/4 cup maple syrup (I used organic Grade A amber.)
2 Cinnamon sticks, slightly crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons Thyme leaves (I used McCormick Gourmet Collection)
4 strips of orange peel
1. Peel the pears. The pears will need to stand up in the pan. Cut the bottom to make the pears flat.
2. In a tall sauce pan, combine the pear nector, water, maple syrup, cinnamon sitcks, thyme leaves and orange peel. Bring to a boil. Place the pears in the liquid in saucepan, standing pears with stems pointing up. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, covered 20 to 30 minutes or until pears are tender. Remove pears from the sauce pan to a plate. Cool completely. ( Thyme’s minty green flavor accents the subtle sweetness of the maple, cinnamon and orange.)
3. Continue to cook the liquid until it has reduced to about 3/4 cup. Pour through a fine mesh strainer. You can drizzle the sauce over each piece at serving time. You can also use to decorate the plate.
(Filling recipe by John Besh)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup of flour
1. Make the filling: In a small skillet, cook the butter over moderate heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Pour the browned butter into a small cup. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar, vanilla seeds, orange zest and salt. Add the flour and beat at low speed until smooth. Add the brown butter and beat the filling at low speed until incorporated.
2. Pour the filling into the baked crust.
3. Slice each cooled pear from stem to bottom. Remove the core from each half. Slice each half of pear crosswise and gently fan the pear onto a spatula. Use the spatula to assist in placing the poached pear over the filling. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, until the filling is golden and set.
LAVENDER WHIPPED CREAM
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon Lavender
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1. Mix the cream and lavender in a small bowl. Cover. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. (The lavender does not really add a taste to the cream, but rather it adds a lovely aromatic quality.)
2. Pour cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Beat the cream mixture, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.