One at a time peel pears, cut in half lengthwise and remove stems and cores, dropping each pear in syrup as you proceed. Shape one of the halves into a peachlike round by cutting off the stem end. The syrup should cover pears completely; if necessary add more water.
Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, reduce to low and poach for 10-15 minutes, or until pears show only slight resistance when pierced with point of a small knife. Remove pan from the heat and let pears cool in the syrup. With a slotted spoon arrange the pears, core side down, on a rack to drain.
In a heavy 3 quart saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla over moderate heat until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and cover.
With a wisk, beat the eggs and the egg yolks together in a large bowl until the eggs are thick enough to fall in a ribbon when lifted from the bowl. Add the flour 1/4 cup at a time. When all the flour is absorbed, remove vanilla bean from the milk and add hot milk to the bowl in a thin stream, beating all the while.*
Stirring deeply into the sides and bottom of the pan with a whisk or a wooden spoon, simmer over moderate heat 3-5 minutes until the mixture thickens into a smooth heavy cream. Do not let the cream boil at any point, but simmer just long enough to remove any raw flour taste.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the 6 tbs. butter bits. Add almonds, and 1/2 cup kirsch, and let cool to room temperature, stirring every now and then to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Refrigerate until chilled.
Before assembling tart, rub apricot jam through a sieve into a small saucepan with the back of a spoon. Then add 1/4 cup of kirsch, stirring constantly until mixture clears.
To assemble tart, spread a thin layer of the apricot glaze on the bottom of the pastry shell. Spoon in the cream, spreading until smooth. Set the pear round in the center and arrange the pear halves so that they radiate out like the spokes of a wheel. Press pears gently into the cream. Brush glaze over the pears and sprinkle with pistachios. Refrigerate again, remove from fridge 15 minutes before serving.
In the Tart recipe ingredients, substitute 2 strips of lemon peel for the vanilla bean.
Keep the poached pears halved, not round, & instead of placing in a baked pie shell put them in really pretty bowls and pour the rosewater cream (see below) over top. Sprinkle on crunched pistachios or almonds.
In the Cream recipe ingredients, substitute 1 tbs. rosewater for the vanilla bean.
*When using rosewater as a substitute, heat the milk and rosewater together, add the eggs and flour, and cook on the stove; it will never actually set, but instead become a thin sort of custard sauce, which is also quite good!
The original version of this recipe comes from Time Life Foods of the World: Classic French Cooking.
Yonnie Travis owns a comic/card shop and works in a used bookstore; she has two sons, ages 8 and 18 months, who keep her very busy. Her hobbies include medieval cookery and needlework (though there isn't much time for that!), and she participates with The Society for Creative Anchronism, Inc.
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