You old (pear frangipane) tart

There used to be this really good cake shop, Jenny Cake, in this beachside town of Byron Bay, a few hours from where I grew up. There I was introduced to the world of chocolate eclairs, cherry strudels and one of my favourite tarts – the frangipane tart. So feeling fairly tarty – as I have been lately, what with the goats cheese and asparagus and pecan varieties of late – I’ve decided to go with a pear frangipane tart in the hope of reliving memories of Jenny Cake gone by.

You will need:
– 125g softened butter
– 125g caster sugar (for the frangipane)
– 125g almond meal
– 2 eggs
– 1tbsp plain flour
– 3 large pears (depending on how peary you like your tarts), peeled
– 200g caster sugar (for the pear poaching)
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 5-6 cloves
– the juice of half a lemon
– the zest of half an orange (as in, big strips of)
– vanilla – I use about a teaspoon of those bottled vanilla pod/seed things, or you could use a vanilla pod, or just some vanilla essence
– one lot of everyone’s favourite shortcrust pastry, from that pecan pie recipe from a while back, baked and shell-like

Step 1 – like a frangipani: in a mixing bowl, cream the butter and first lot (125g) of caster sugar. Once that’s nice and fluffy, beat in the eggs, one by one (or, as I did, accidentally all at the same time). After that, fold in the almonds and flour. I just left this in the fridge until I was ready to bake.

Step 2 – get poached: in a saucepan, dump your second lot (200g – or less, depending how sweet you want your pears; 200g is not overly overly sweet) of caster sugar and then also about 500ml of water. Heat on medium until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cinnamon stick and cloves, as well as the lemon juice, orange zest and vanilla to the pan (if you’re using an actual vanilla pod, split the pod in half and scrape out the seeds and whack the lot into the pan). Add your pears and some more water to just cover the pears. Whack the lid on and bring to a simmer (or if you’re being all fancy pants, you can do the cartouche thing – cut a circle of baking paper and lay over the top of the water, touching the water and simmer – it slows down the moisture reduction process…orrr you could just put a lid on). Simmer for about 20 minutes and then remove the pears from the liquid and cool.

Poaching pears

Hi pear!

Step 3 – fill ‘er up: pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees celcius (fan forced). In your beautifully baked tart shell, spread your frangipane mix – I filled it about halfway up the shell. Slice your pears how you like – I went for long, chunky slices – and place these into your tart. You could lay them delicately on top of you like; I went for the “dig into the frangipane mix” method. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until it’s all looking delicious and golden and the frangipane is set. Serve with a nice, big fat dollop of cream or something equally delicious and wolf down! (Oh, PS, I’ve been using a smaller tin in the dumb hope that I’ll eat less junk food – so the recipe will actually make a bigger tart – like one of those 23cm tart tins 🙂

Yumbo!

La Brasserie, Darlinghurst

Feeling a little French the other day – ooh la la, oui oui, baguette, merci etc – I felt that given that this was the extent of my understanding of the great culture, I should probably get myself on down to something that was actually, really, Francais.

And oh it was. The waiters were French, the dishes were French, the music was French, the whole thing was so very deliciously, delightfully French. I’m talking about La Brasserie in Darlinghurst.

Having not ever been to a French restaurant, I (pretty easily) convinced DF to come on a culinary adventure of delicious wonderment last Saturday night.

Starting off with two warm, crusty complimentary rolls served with slightly salted, chilled butter our eyes glazed over with joyful anticipation at the delicious items on the menu. There was escargot (obviously), chicken liver parfait, duck neck sausage, goats cheese, steak frites, steak tartare, veal loin and oxtail. We ended up going with an entree of Soupe a l’oignon gratine (French onion soup, to the rest of us) ($18) and a Souffle au Fromage (Cheese souffle) ($16).

French onion soup with grantine potatoes

I’m constantly impressed with how the French managed to make onions into something I actually want to eat. A whole bowl-full, in fact. The soup was sweet, the potatoes were fluffy and you can’t really go wrong with a big smack of cheese to cover it all off.

Cheese souffle

My cheese souffle was similarly fantastic. It was a textural delight to eat this dish, it really was. Once the spoon crunched through the crispy, parmesan-y outer layer, there was a beautifully light, airy, lightly cheesy souffle and then deep down within, were some sweet, caramelly, mushy onions all surrounded by a deep, creamy, intensely cheesy almost-bechemal sauce.

We ploughed on in to the main courses: the pan roasted pork fillet ($32) and the confit duck leg ($33).

Pan roasted pork fillet with forest mushrooms and gnocchi

DF eagerly cut into what was a very reasonable-sized serving of pork. He noted that the pork itself was every so slightly on the dry side, but that it went very well with the field mushrooms and “sweetish glaze” that together it didn’t taste dry at all. At one point I did launch my fork across the table, catching DF unawares and hooking a hunk of pork on my fork. The edge was crisp and caramelly and the meat was flavourful as well, but I agree with the sliiiiiiight dryness without sauce.

Crisp confit duck leg with carrot cumin puree, orange glazed Belgium endive and sauce Bigarade

That picture came out significantly less clear than anticipated. But the duck was mind blowing. The skin – as described – was super thin and super crisp. The meat was so tender and juicy and fell off the bone with the slightest of touches. The puree was silky, sweet and delicately spiced with cumin. And the sauce added a further balsamic-y sweetness. I quickly worked out that I am in no way a fan of Belgium endive. Its bitter aftertaste was definitely not my cup of tea. It went surprisingly well with the sweetness of the sauce and puree, but I still couldn’t really get past it.

Once again ignoring our protesting waistlines, we skipped right on over to dessert. We had been contemplating strolling across to the newest trend in dessert gustation, Gelato Messina, but as the night grew cold and as our expanding waistlines made it more difficult to move, we settled in for the third course. DF opted for the Fondant au Chocolat, while I went for the Baba bouchon (both $15).

Chocolate fondant with coffee foam and pistachio icecream

The chocolate fondant came out deliciously messy. We were almost confused that it was some form of saucy mess, but then realised that it was a tasty, light coffee foam, under which sat the rich, molten chocolate fondant. DF said that the cute cup of pistachio ice cream was a very nice contrast to the warm, gooey mess to the right.

Rum soaked cake with passionfruit poached pear and passionfruit banana sorbet

My baba bouchon came out, a cute little cake complete with a gorgeous, fragrant poached pear and a sphere of sorbet. The cake was almost brioche-y, but dryness was nicely compensated for with a delicious, but not overpowering rum syrup. The pear could have been poached for just a little longer – sometimes it took a bit of effort to slice through with the fork and spoon I was given – but was sweet and light, all the same. The quinnelle of cream was probably unnecessary, but the passionfruit banana sorbet was nice to add some tart freshness to the dessert.

La Brasserie was a delightful way to spend a cold winter eve. The restaurant was popular and bustling, the service fairly attentive, the meals warm and inviting and the lighting dim and romantic. I’ll be back when I start saying “oui oui” again…

La Brasserie
118 Crown Street
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010

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