News for nerds

I’ve never been someone who reaches for the conventional, and that goes for my choice of dessert, too. While some might conclude with the rich and dense, you’ll see me reaching for lighter, cleaner, more refreshing sweets. Adding pickled fruit to a bake, such as in a pickled pear and chocolate frangipane tart, is one example of this alternative ending. Pickle any seasonal fruit – apples, blackberries, quince, rhubarb – and add them to friands, cakes and crumbles to sharpen their appeal.

Chocolate and pickled pear frangipane tart with citrus creme fraiche
The sour notes of the pickle make a delicious change to any ordinary pear and chocolate tart.

Prep 50 min
Chill 1 hr 30 min+
Cook 40 min
Serves 10–12

1–2 pickled pears, cut in half lengthways and patted dry with paper towel. See recipe below.

For the shortcrust pastry
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
90g icing sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Pinch of sea salt
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
1 egg, chilled
1–2 tbsp ice-cold water (if needed)

For the frangipane
100g unsalted butter, cubed
80g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
100g golden caster or granulated sugar
180g ground almonds

To serve
300g creme fraiche
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

To make the pastry, sift the flour, icing sugar, cocoa and salt into a large bowl. Add the cold butter and rub between your fingers into fine crumbs. Mix through the egg until it all clumps together; if need be, add a little ice-cold water to bring it together. Shape into a ball, cover and refrigerate for one hour (or up to 24).

Grease a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Put the chilled pastry between two sheets of greaseproof paper lightly dusted with flour and roll out to a disc 28–30cm in diameter and about 2mm thick. Carefully line the tin with the pastry, gently pushing it into the edges and grooves and using a little excess pastry, if need be, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4.

To make the frangipane, melt the butter and chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until completely smooth. Remove from the heat, whisk through the cocoa powder and leave to cool, but not harden. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the sugar until pale and creamy. Fold this through the melted chocolate mixture, until just combined, then gently mix in the ground almonds.

Remove the tart shell from the fridge and prick the base all over. Fill with the frangipane mixture, spreading it out evenly with a spatula. Slice the pear halves into wedges, or fan-cut them and decoratively press into the surface of the frangipane. It will rise slightly while baking, and envelop them.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 30–40 minutes, until the surface of the frangipane is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove, leave to cool completely, then release from the tin. Slice and serve with creme fraiche laced with lemon zest and juice.

Pickled pears

Make sure the pears are firm, because they can get too soft if pickled for too long. Treat them as you would a poached pear: keep the skins on and prick, slice or cube, or peel and pickle whole. Keep to herbs and spices you might use when baking, such as lemon zest/peel, cinnamon, cardamon, fresh ginger, lemon thyme. Taste your vinegar brine, adding more sugar and water if it’s too tart for your liking, and bearing in mind that less acidic levels may mean the jarred fruit will keep for a shorter period – if so, refrigerate.

Prep 10 min
Cook 10 min
Pickle 3-4 weeks
Makes 1 x 1-litre jar

600ml white-wine vinegar
200ml filtered water
150g white or golden granulated sugar
Pinch sea salt
3 strips pared lemon zest
50ml (3½ tbsp) lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods, gently smashed
¾ tsp black peppercorns
2–3 pears, whole, pricked, or peeled or chopped (blanch if very firm)
3 sprigs lemon thyme

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, lemon zest and juice, and spices in a large, non-reactive pan. Place over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve and the spices infuse. Bring to a boil, simmer for five minutes, then leave to cool slightly.

Pack your prepped pears into a clean (or sterilised), cool one-litre jar. Try to fit in as much as possible without squashing or forcing them in too tightly, and leave a gap of about 1cm below the rim. Add the lemon thyme, then pour in the brine. Gently tap the jar to release any trapped air bubbles (or use a chopstick to manoeuvre them out), making sure you get out as many as you can (the air can encourage fermentation). Add more brine to come 2-3mm from the rim, so the pears are entirely covered, then seal with a sterilised dry lid. Store in a cool, dark spot for three to four weeks before opening (they’ll keep sealed for three months). Once opened, store and eat from the fridge.