Repetition rocks. The neuroscience of learning centers on repetition to engrave pathways and reinforce facilitation at the synapses. In human speak, it just means that practice makes perfect and learning needs repetition. So in clinic when faced with a child with a learning disability, I often have to underline the importance of repetition in learning a new concept or skill.
My baking has always gone through phases. I had a Bundt cake phase, a pie/tart phase, a cheesecake phase and a bread making phase. Most of the skills I learned were picked up years ago when I used to attend classes at Shermay’s Cooking School and figured out some basics to get started with. I haven’t been to any of these classes for the longest time now because with the basic skill set and great internet resources, in the words of Chef Gusteau in Ratatouille the movie, “Anyone can cook”.
I’ve always had great respect for pastry chefs as baking needs a certain knack, excellent fine motor skills, a creative eye as well as a sensitivity to flavor and contrasts. They are the craftsmen of the cooking world. Which is not a skill I possess – I have decent enough eye-hand coordination but a combination of impatience and risk-taking usually causes me to rush through critical steps that result in the final product looking…well…homemade. So a plodding and careful perseverance is something I need to learn.
Which reminds me of the time my son was attending kindergarten in the US – a year long project he was given was to keep a “tree journal”. From the beginning of the year, he had to choose a tree and every weekend he was to write several lines describing the tree and draw a picture of the tree. Together we chose our neighbour’s pear tree which we could see from our kitchen and backyard. This was no easy feat for a 5 year old and initially it was not so bad because the colors and changes of the fall season were easy to describe. However, when we hit the winter months, there was literally nothing to write about the pear tree. One week the description was “the pear tree is bare”. The next week, “the pear tree is still bare.” And the week after, “the pear tree is still so bare”. It was a long winter. And kid #1 had inherited his dad’s fine motor skills and his picture of the pear tree was usually a blocky looking rectangular trunk with a few spokes sticking out of the top.
But that winter I learned patience and the both of us learned to keep our eyes open to see the rare appearance of a hungry squirrel and appreciated the sparkle of fresh snow blanketing the branches and the base of the tree. That tree journal was a true training of penmanship, observation and creativity. Surprisingly, kid #1 has since gotten over his fine motor issues and thanks to the iron hand of Mrs Robbins, his redoubtable kindergarten teacher, has beautiful hand writing now and one of his pet interests is typography.
So back to pears – I was given a pear tart recipe by a good friend and baking buddy (actually the original recipe was from Smitten Kitchen, probably one of the best cooking blogs around). I was flattered that a chef (a real one, ok) who tried the pear tart said that it was of restaurant quality. But when I started the low carb odyssey I never made this tart for a couple of years. However, recently with increasing confidence in making decent tart pastry using almond meal, I decided to revisit this recipe and turn it into a low carb pear tart.
So this recipe is derived from the original Smitten Kitchen pear tart, but with a low carb tart base, sugar substitution and addition of chocolate to the base of the tart (I could not resist that tweak!). The tart crust is not so delightfully melty and shortbread-y as the original recipe, but holds really well and is good enough a crust that separates easily from the pan. The flower pattern made by the sliced pears is singularly beautiful and the sight of the layers of tart, chocolate, tart filling and pear when you slice the tart is gorgeous.
Low Carb French Pear and Chocolate Tart
- 1 1/2 cups of almond flour
- 1/3 cup sugar substitute
- 55 g butter
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg white
- 3/4 cup almond flour
- 2/3 cup sugar substitute
- 85g butter at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp arrowroot flour
- 2 tsp dark rum or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 can of pear halves
- 50 g chocolate, chopped finely
- For the tart shell, preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.
- Mix the almond flour, sugar and salt, then pulse in a blender with butter till crumb-like.
- Add the egg white and pulse again. Tart dough is a little wet. Roll into a ball then roll out the tart pastry between 2 sheets of baking paper or plastic sheets. Make sure the size of the circle you roll out the dough into is large enough to cover the tart pan and the sides (allow slight overhang). Refrigerate for about 1/2 hour or longer.
- Line the tart pastry in a tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom). Trim the edges of the tart pastry. It is ok if the dough rips as it can be patched easily.
- Pierce the tart pastry with a fork. Bake tart shell for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 180 degrees C.
- For the tart filling, mix the almond flour, sugar substitute, low carb flour, butter, xanthan gum and arrowroot flour. Beat in the egg and rum. Set aside.
- Take 5 pear halves and carefully cut into thin slices, keeping the sliced pieces still in the shape of pear halves.
- Sprinkle the grated chocolate over the base of the tart. Pour the tart filling over the tart shell. Lay the slices of pear with the broader end of the pear half at the edge of the pan. Arrange the halves so that the pears look like spokes of a wheel.
- Bake for 50 – 55 minutes. Serve warm on its own or with vanilla ice cream. Goes great with a cup of black coffee.