My favourite pastry of late is pear meringue and it was Rita that created it one day instead of the usual lemon meringue pie we all liked. It was a real treat and I was determined to learn to master it and this is my refined recipe.
It's not everyone who can make a good shortcrust pastry by hand and I have warm hands and discovered that the Kenwood chef food processor was best for me for pastry making. So I'll give both methods as it's not everyone who will have a processor or want to use one. I refer to tablespoons of liquid but as the older cooks will know the real old tablespoon is not around in many houses any more and I'm talking about the smaller ones we have now that serve as desert or table spoons. I say this as the liquid quantity in pastry is very precise and if you put in too much water it won't work. You can always add but you can never take away. I usually blast the egg yokes through first and then gradually add the water.
For the pastry:
160g plain flour.
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of water
|For the filling:
1kg of conference pears peeled and cored and sliced.
Juice of one lemon.
2 tablespoons sugar.
4 tablespoons of Baileys Original Irish cream.
|For the meringue:
4 medium egg whites.
100g of caster or ordinary granulated sugar.
In a food processor put the flour and salt and cut up the butter into small bits and blend to the fine breadcrumb stage. Add the egg yolks and water and blast off and on to a soft dough. Don't over work it. Roll out on a floured board to a 12inch round and line a removable bottomed 9inch flan tin and fork the base all over to stop it rising in the oven. (If making the pastry by hand rub in the butter between you fingers and thumbs to the fine breadcrumb stage and mix in the egg yolks and water with a knife and gather it into a soft dough.) put the pastry case into the fridge for at least half an hour before baking. I sometimes leave it overnight in the fridge. Blind bake your flan case straight from the fridge for 15mins at 200c or 180c fan oven.
Juice your lemon into a bowl and add your pear slices. The lemon juice prevents the pears from turning brown and they need to be coated as soon as they are cut up.
Melt about a tablespoon of butter in large non stick frying pan on a medium heat. Add the pears and sugar and Baileys and cook with lid on pan till they are just beginning to go tender. It's best if the pears are just ripe and need almost no cooking but if they are still a bit firm they need softening and maybe a little more sugar to taste. As soon as they are tender but still firm strain them through a sieve collecting the juices into the bowl. Now fill the blind baked pastry case with the pear slices and return the juices to the pan and stir continually to reduce to almost a caramel but not too dry like toffee. Top the pear slices with this and you can now get on with making your meringue topping.
Mix your egg whites preferably in a large glass bowl to the soft peak stage. An electric hand mixer on full power is great, otherwise be prepared to work hard with a hand whisk. The soft peak stage is assured when they are fluffy and forming peaks when you withdraw the whisk and you can turn the bowl upside down and the mixture remains intact. Now gradually mix in your sugar about 25g each time. I usually have it in a small cup or bowl and sprinkle it in about 4 times and mix it through on a slower mix. Now top the pastry case with the meringue being sure to cover all the edges of the pastry case. Your pastry case will not cook much more during the rest of the baking so it should be blind baked until lightly browned and more or less ready. The pears will cook a little more so they should be nearly ready to eat but just slightly firm. Make sure your oven is set to a lower heat about 170c or 160c for a fan oven. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes until just nicely lightly browned and then turn down to 110c or 100c fan oven for another hour.
The secret to this delightful dish is to have the pears just nicely ripened ready to eat before cooking and to hardly have to cook them at all but just blend the juices with the other ingredients and render the juices down to a caramel so as not to have it too wet and produce Mary Berry's infamous soggy bottom. It is easier to cook if the pears are slightly under ripe but the true taste of the ripe pear is really never quite replicated with sugar or Baileys. So you need to know your pears. I always buy them under ripe. Conference are best, the bigger the better. Abate are good too but usually very expensive. I keep them in the fridge some times for a week or two without a problem. If they are taken out the day before you need them and placed in a warm room with a ripening banana in the bowl you usually have done your best.
I usually make a Bramley apple pie and pear meringue together and it lets me use the other two egg yokes for my apple pie pastry which is the same as above but with a couple of tablespoons of sugar added. I bake the apple pie and blind bake the pastry case for the meringue together for the first 15 mins which leaves me to get the pears cut up and cooked and then I leave the pie till it is fully baked (another 10 mins or so during which you can now be preparing the meringue topping for the pear meringue. My Bramley apple pie is done with raw apple slices and a sprinkling of sugar inside a sweet crust pastry case and a sprinkling of sugar on the outside of the pie lid. It's one thing worth making custard for.
I prefer the pear meringue served cold on its own so don't be tempted to go for it too soon out of the oven.
My only problem with these two delicious treats is restraining myself from eating them too often and becoming a fat b-----d. I usually give most of it away as I do my home made jams and home grown tomatoes but it comes back in friendship and sometimes is turned into other delicious treats like partridges, pheasants, sea trout and venison.