Pear and Pecan Tart

Pear-Pecan Tart

Pear-Pecan Tart

The best seasonal recipes are templates that work with whatever happens to be available fresh from your backyard or local farmers’ market. This pear tart, for example, could turn into a plum tart, or a peach tart, or a fresh fig and raspberry tart (and yes, it’s possible to grow fresh figs in New Hampshire).

Unless you have access to a nut tree – and we do grow black walnuts, hazelnuts, butternuts, hickory nuts and chestnuts, among others in southern New Hampshire – your nuts probably won’t be local. But if you can get local nuts, use them, by all means.

The basic concept is to make a sandy mixture of nuts, sugar and flour, sprinkle it over a rectangle of pastry (puff pastry as here, but plain old pie dough will also work) and top it with very ripe fresh fruit. As the tart bakes, the fruit releases it’s juices, which are soaked up by the nut mixture. The nut mixture becomes soft and a little chewy, and the pastry stays crisp on the bottom.

For my tart, I used home-made, all butter puff pastry (here’s a link to that recipe) but you can substitute store-bought frozen puff pastry and get great results. Use Trader Joe’s or Dufour brands if you can find them, because they are made with butter and taste better than those made with shortening. Otherwise, Pepperidge Farm makes a reliable and easy-to-find frozen puff pastry.

These brands are packaged with slightly different weights, but all are close to 1 pound, which is what this recipe calls for, and all will work. Plan ahead so you can follow the directions on the package for refrigerator defrosting. And if the pastry comes in two pieces, simply make two smaller tarts.

This tart goes together quickly once the ingredients are assembled. Try serving it, as I did, fresh from the oven for a lazy Sunday morning brunch. It would also be delicious as the finale to a dinner party featuring the best of what fall has to offer. Either way, it is best eaten the day it is made, or it may become a little soggy.

Fresh Pear and Pecan Tart

  • 1 pound (approximately) puff pastry dough, defrosted
  • 4 very ripe, juicy, pears
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-½ cups pecans
  • ½ cup sugar, plus a few tablespoons more for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Roll the puff pastry, if necessary, into a rectangle about 12 inches by 14 inches, and a little less than ¼ inch thick. Use a knife to cut directly down (do not drag it – dragging seals the edges and will keep the pastry from rising) to even the edges of the dough (reserve the scraps and re-use if desired).

Place the puff pastry on a sheet tray that has been lined with parchment paper. Prick the pastry all over with a fork, leaving about 1-½ inches all around the edge of the pastry un-pricked. This will allow the edges to rise in the oven while the center of the tart stays flat. Place the dough in the refrigerator to rest.

While the dough is resting, zest the orange and lemon and reserve the zest. Squeeze the juices of the lemon and orange into a medium sized bowl.

Place the zest and ½ cup sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the zest is well combined with the sugar. Leave the sugar in the processor and proceed with the next step. This will allow the sugar to absorb the oils from the zest and add a lot of flavor to the mixture.

Peel the pears, one at a time. When a pear has been peeled, cut it in half, use a melon baller or other implement to scoop out the seed cavity and tough stem, and place the halves in the citrus juices, coating well to keep them from browning. Proceed until all the pears are soaking in the juice.

Place the nuts and the flour in the food processor with the sugar and zest and pulse until they make a coarse mixture.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator. Lightly sprinkle it with half the remaining sugar all the way to the edges. Cover the pricked portion of the dough with the nut mixture. Arrange the pears on top of the nuts in a decorative manner (discard the citrus juice or use for another recipe). Sprinkle the tops of the pears with the remaining sugar.

Place the tart in the center of the preheated oven. Allow it to bake for 10-15 minutes until the edges have risen nicely, then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Continue baking for about another 45 minutes, turning once or twice to ensure even browning.

The tart is done when the pears have released their juices into the nut mixture and they are soft and beginning to brown a little on top. Allow the tart to rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting with a serrated knife. Serves 8 or more.

Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is a sublime demonstration of the power of mathematics. You begin by layering a block of butter between two layers of dough. Fold the dough in thirds, and now there are 3 layers of butter between the layers of dough. Let it rest, roll it out, fold it in thirds again and now there are 9 layers of butter. Repeat – 27 layers of butter. Repeat – 81 layers of butter. Repeat – 243 layers of butter. And one last time – 729 layers of butter, and 730 layers of dough (including the top and bottom layers).

As the puff pastry bakes, the butter fat melts, which separates the layers of dough, while the butter liquids turn to steam, forcing the layers apart and causing the pastry to rise in a spectacular fashion. And unlike a soufflé, which must be served immediately before it falls, properly baked puff pastry will maintain its loft even after it cools.

When golden brown and fully cooked, puff pastry is a delight in the mouth, melting almost as soon as it hits the tongue into rich, delicate shards. And rich as it is, puff pastry provides a neutral backdrop, working well with both sweet and savory fillings.

I think puff pastry’s reputation for being tricky to make has more to do with the cultivated mystique of the pâtissier than the reality of the recipe. It’s actually a pretty straightforward process, though it does require a cool kitchen and patience through all the resting and rolling. It also requires care in choosing ingredients – the butter needs to be cold, the flour needs to be bread flour.

It also requires care in measuring. I recommend weighing ingredients whenever you’re baking, for this recipe in particular. If you don’t have a scale, make sure you fluff up the flour, dip a measuring cup designed for dry ingredients into it, and then use a knife to level the cup (rather than tapping it on the counter, or pushing it down with your fingers, which compacts the flour).

Below is the basic recipe for puff pastry. On separate pages, you’ll find recipes using it as an ingredient, including Vol-au-vent, Spinach Tart and Maple Tarte Tatin.

Puff Pastry

Butter Block

  • 1 pound, 2 ounces cold unsalted butter (4-1/2 sticks)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 4-1/2 ounces bread flour (1 cup measured by the dip-level-pour method)


  • 15 ounces bread flour (3-1/3 cups measured by the dip-level-pour method)
  • 2 ounces cold unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 teaspoons salt

For the butter block:

Cut the butter into pieces and put it into a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer. Add the lemon juice and salt and use your fingers to mix them into the butter a bit, or use the paddle to of the mixer to combine them a little. Add the bread flour and continue mixing until the mixture becomes fairly homogenous. Don’t let the mixture get warm and soft; rather, it should have the consistency of clay.

Put the butter mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap. Pat it into a 6 inch square and cover completely with the plastic. Refrigerate the block while you make the dough.

For the dough:

Cut the butter into small pieces. Put the flour on a work surface, (a clean countertop will do), sprinkle the butter over the flour, then use your fingers to work the butter into the flour until it has the texture of corn meal with a few butter-peas floating around in it.

making puff pastry - water in the well

making puff pastry – water in the well

Make a well in the center of flour-butter mixture and sprinkle the salt into the well. Pour about half the water into the well, then use your fingers to begin swirling the flour mixture into the water. When there’s a thick paste in the well, add a little more water and then stir in more of the flour-butter mix. Continue adding water and mixing in the flour mixture until you’ve used up almost all of the water.

Gently knead together the dough, adding the rest of the water if necessary to finally arrive at a messy, slightly sticky ball of dough. Don’t  knead it too much – just so that it all holds together and isn’t dry.

puff pastry - cutting an X in the dough

puff pastry – cutting an X in the dough

Use a sharp knife to cut an X about halfway through the dough ball, then loosely wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour so the gluten in the flour relaxes a bit.

To make the puff paste:

Ideally the butter block and the dough will be about the same consistency. Pull the dough ball apart at the X to open it into a rough square. Shape it until it’s about an 8 inch by 8 inch even square.

puff pastry - placing the butter block on the dough

puff pastry – placing the butter block on the dough

Place the butter block on the dough, juxtaposed to it so that the butter is a diamond to the dough’s square. Fold the dough over the butter so the corners of the square meet in the middle. Pinch the seams together firmly so that the dough completely surrounds the butter.

puff pastry - enclosing the butter block in the dough

puff pastry – enclosing the butter block in the dough

Turn the dough so that it sits like a square again, sprinkling a little flour on the counter and on the dough so that it won’t stick as you roll it out. Roll the dough into a rectangle 12 inches wide by 16 inches long, keeping the sides as straight and even as possible, sprinkling more flour as necessary to keep the puff paste from sticking.

puff pastry - folding dough in thirds to make a turn

puff pastry – folding dough in thirds to make a turn

Fold the dough into thirds so that it becomes a three-layered rectangle about 5 inches by 12 inches. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

Repeat the process 4 more times, rolling the dough out to a

puff pastry - a completely folded turn

puff pastry – a completely folded turn

rectangle 12 inches by 16 inches and then folding it in thirds, wrapping it in plastic wrap and refrigerating for 1/2 hour.

After the final rest period, roll the dough out into a 20 inch square (trim the sides if necessary, reserving the scraps) and then, if desired, cut that square into 4-10 inch squares (this is a convenient size for storage and works well for most recipes). Wrap each of the squares in plastic, place on a baking sheet and freeze until needed. You can also freeze the scraps; thawed and rolled out, this can be used just like regular puff paste, except that it won’t rise quite as high. The dough will keep frozen for several months.