Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cranberry-Pear Tart with Macadamia Phyllo Crust

So for Thanksgiving this last year, my family had an iron-chef challenge. I was assigned cranberries, and I decided early on to bring my 'A' game. After 2 months of experimentation, brainstorming, and tempting intermediates (cranberry-brie wontons being the most promising), I decided on this amazing entry.

It's a combination of two different recipes--one from the Whole Foods website and one from the back of a box of Athens Phyllo dough--with a lot of variations.

Now the important questions, did I win the iron chef challenge? In all technicality, no, I came in second; however, it was discovered after the fact that the winner (my sister's fiance, with Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes) used cake mix, and thus, I feel should be disqualified.

Cranberry-Pear Tart with Macadamia Phyllo Crust

The Crust:
  • One half-box (20 sheets) frozen phyllo dough (paper-thin sheets of dough for Greek pastries; usually in grocery store frozen foods with the puff pastry, pie crusts, etc.)
  • One half-cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped or ground
  • 1 stick melted butter
The Filling
  • 4 bosc pears
  • Several tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 12-oz bag of fresh cranberries
  • 1 or 2 spoonfuls of raspberry jam
Out-of-the-ordinary equipment
  • Scissors
  • Tart/quiche pan with a removable bottom (I use an 11-inch pan)
  • Brush or something to spread melted butter

NOTE: the phyllo dough is really temperamental and will dry out/crack if you're not careful. Keep it covered when not using.

Using the bottom of the tart pan as a pattern, cut a large circle out of 20 sheets of the phyllo dough (usually a package has two sleeves of dough, each with 20 sheets). Before using each sheet, brush it with melted butter. Layer the sheets in the tart pan, making sure to cover the sides of the pan, also. In between every few layers, sprinkle some of macadamia nuts (being sure to leave some for the final topping). Don't let the crust come up much past the edge of the pan: it'll just burn in the oven.

Peel and slice the pears into 1/3 - 1/2 inch wedges. Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of a pan, and saute the pears till slightly translucent at the thin parts and slightly browned. You'll probably need to do it in 2-3 batches. Retain as much of the liquid as you can in the pan. After you're finished with the pears, add the cranberries to the pear juice / butter in the same pan. Check over the cranberries because sometimes they still have stems attached. If you need to add a little more butter, go ahead. This is Thanksgiving, you can splurge a little. Cook until the cranberries start to pop and break open. Add up to 1/4 cup sugar to taste (I don't really like it super-sweet). Add the raspberry jam, and mix well. It should be pretty gloopy at this stage.

Pour the cranberry gloop into the phyllo crust, and then arrange the pear slices on top making it presentable: this is a competition, after all. Sprinkle the top with the leftover ground macadamia nuts. If you want some presentation points, put 2-3 whole cranberries and a whole macadamia nut in the center of the tart on top. The heat of the oven with brown the nuts and cause the cranberry to pop a little, making a cool little garnish.

Bake the tart at 350-degrees for 15-20 minutes. Watch carefully, though, because the phyllo can burn easily; watch the edges of the crust, and if they're getting dark, you tart's probably about done.

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