Winter time, arguably the annual height of baking season since the chilly months are basically a parade of one holiday after another, always seems to bring this age-old debate to mind. While I have nothing against a fluffy slice of classic vanilla cake or even a hefty, rich chunk of spiced gingerbread cake, I am very passionately what you might call a pie person. Creamy filling packed with ripe fruit, tucked away inside flaky layers of buttery pastry? Sign me up for some of that sweet, sliceable holiday gold every time.
For the tart shell (adapted from Martha Stewart's basic recipe for pâte brisée):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed into small pieces
1/4 cup (up to 1/2 cup) ice water
Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor (or mix together by hand in a bowl). Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some larger pieces remaining (you can also skip the food processor and mix by hand by rubbing butter into mixture with your fingertips). Pour 1/4 cup water over mixture, reserving the rest. Pulse or mix by hand until mixture just begins to stick together. If your dough is looking too dry to hold together, add up to 1/4 cup more water one tablespoon at a time. Once you can form a ball of dough from your mixture, stop working it immediately or it may toughen up on you.
Divide dough in half and lay each on a piece of plastic wrap, press each ball of dough into a flat disk and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to one day ahead of time (this recipe makes enough for two 9" tart shells, so you'll want to either double the filling recipe and make two tarts at once or save one disk to make another tart later; dough may also be kept frozen for up to two months).
Remove plastic wrap and turn dough out onto a floured countertop or cutting board. Roll into a circle of dough about 1/4" thick, place in 9" tart pan and press down into bottom and sides of pan to shape dough into a shell. Chill for 30 minutes while you prepare the tart filling and preheat your oven.
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, softened to room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
ripe Bosc pear, thinly sliced
2/3 cup fresh cranberries, whole
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, add both sugars and hazelnuts and pulse until a coarse meal (about the texture of cornmeal) forms. Add butter, eggs and vanilla, continue to process until mixture is well combined and creamy.
Remove chilled tart shell from refrigerator, bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until it just begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 325 as you do so, then pour hazelnut filling into shell. Arrange pear slices on top, scatter the cranberries over top, place back in oven. Bake for 60 minutes, remove and let cool to room temperature before slicing and serving. Enjoy!