Frangipane, a cream made from almonds, eggs, and butter, is one of my favorite tart fillings. I’ve experimented with a walnut variation in a concord grape pie, and a pecan one in a summery strawberry galette. Here, I replaced almonds with hazelnuts in my take on a classic French winter tart.
To complement the hazelnuts, I poached sliced pears in a syrup made from honey, cinnamon, and freshly scraped vanilla seeds, which coat the pears as they cook, lending a magnificent fragrance and flavor. Instead of a traditional flaky pastry crust, I pressed shortbread dough into the bottom of a tart pan. With only a few ingredients, the crust is simple, no-fuss, and delicious.
Pear Hazelnut Tart
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
⅓ cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Poached Pear Topping
1 pear, sliced
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
1 vanilla bean
Prepare crust: Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in flour and salt until just combined. Press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Poke the dough in several places with a fork to release steam. The dough will still puff up a bit as it bakes; to completely prevent this, cover the dough with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges begin to turn a light golden brown. Set aside to cool. Remove pie weights, if using.
Prepare filling: In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Mix in flour, salt, baking powder, and hazelnuts until thoroughly combined. Alternately, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
Prepare topping: Place pear slices and water in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the saucepan. Stir in cinnamon and honey. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for at least 25 minutes, or until soft. Drain remaining liquid and set pears aside too cool.
Assemble and bake: Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees F. When tart crust is completely cool, pour in frangipane filling and smooth with a rubber spatula. Arrange pear slices as desired on the surface. Bake for around 20-25 minutes (start checking after 15 minutes) until filling is nearly set, crust is golden brown, and edges of frangipane begin to turn golden. As the tart cools, the filling will set further. To decorate, place a whole toasted hazelnut in the center of the tart.
Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container.