Pear Tarte Tatin with Anise Seed Caramel

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6 servings. Recipe credit to Food52.

Tip:  It’s adventurous to try new foods and flavor combinations. Our taste buds and taste sensations can change regularly, so something you previously disliked may become a future favorite…keep checking! Who among us hasn’t tasted something for the first time, then wondered why we didn’t try it before? On the other hand, if you have a strong aversion to a certain ingredient, don’t let that discourage you from cooking a dish that may otherwise appeal. For example, if you aren’t excited about adding anise seed (subtle licorice flavor) to this tarte, sub another spice (ex: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardomom, ginger); add orange or lemon zest; scatter in some chopped almonds or pistachios; or just keep it pure with no additions to the pear filling. Your tastebuds will thank you for keeping things interesting!

Pastry Dough   Note: Prepare and chill the pastry dough at least 2 hours or up to 3 days ahead of completing the recipe.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp sugar
10 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup ice water

Whisk flour, salt and sugar together in a large mixing bowl; place in refrigerator.
Cut 1 stick plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter into small pieces; place in refrigerator or freezer for 5-10 minutes.
Prepare approximately 1/2 cup of ice water. You will not use all, but have it available.

Cut the butter chunks into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few lima bean-size pieces. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and stir with a fork until a shaggy dough forms. Add more water, 1 tablespoons at a time as needed, but do not make the dough too wet; it should just hold together when squeezed in your hand (it will hydrate more as it rests in the fridge). Press dough into a somewhat flat 6-inch disk on a piece of plastic wrap; wrap it tightly and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours or up to 3 days.

When ready to proceed with the recipe:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10-inch circle (use an inverted skillet or base of a springform pan as a guide). Set the pastry circle on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until the pears are ready.

Pear Filling
6 Tbsp unsalted butter (3/4 stick or 3 oz)
1/3 cup baker’s sugar (superfine)
1/2 tsp anise seed
1 pinch sea salt
5 to 7 slightly ripe pears (about 5-6 ounces each)

Wash, peel, core, and cut pears into eighths or sixths, depending on size of pears.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet (seasoned cast iron works great). Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the melted butter and cook over medium until the mixture begins to turn amber, swirling the pan occasionally, about 2 minutes. (The mixture may separate, but will smooth out once pears are added.)

Remove skillet from heat; sprinkle the anise seeds and salt evenly over the caramel, and carefully add the pear sections. Return to the heat and cook until the caramel turns deep amber, stirring occasionally and gently turning the pears with a heatproof rubber spatula, 7 to 10 minutes. Simmer should be gentle; adjust the heat as necessary. Remove skillet from the heat. At this point, you can use a fork and the spatula to carefully arrange the pears into a pretty pattern or leave them in disarray 😉 for a more rustic look. Just be sure they cover the surface of the skillet.

Bring pastry from the fridge; cut 4 small slits near the middle, then center the circle on the pear filling in the skillet; tuck edges with the rubber spatula as needed. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is golden brown and caramel is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool the tarte on a rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet to loosen the crust or any pears that might be stuck. Using heavy oven mitts or pot holders, place a round serving platter (at least 1-inch larger than skillet) upside down on the tarte. Quickly flip the skillet so the tart crust is centered on the platter and pears are the top of the dessert. Remove any pears that stayed in the skillet; arrange on the crust. Scrape any caramel from the pan onto the tart.

Cut tarte into 6 servings with a serrated knife. Top each warm slice with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

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