Pear Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream

I'll admit it. I've been dreaming of peaches and tomatoes, of zucchini and plums in abundance. The farmer's market in the winter can be a little depressing, with heavy root vegetables and apples and pears week after week. Even though it hasn't been all that cold in New York, I'm looking forward to summer and its produce. However, while we are all waiting for spring, this creamy tart might help lift you out of the winter doldrums. I like how the salty, buttery crust contrasts with the sweetness of the pastry cream and the vanilla-scented pears. Also, this would make a lovely Valentine's day dessert if you have some time...you could even poach the pears in red wine instead of water for some festive color (although then I would recommend removing the vanilla). Pear Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream (adapted from several Bon Appétit recipes)

For tart crust:

1 3/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

For vanilla pastry cream:

1 1/2 cups half and half

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For pears:

2 large Anjou or Bosc pears

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

Crust: in a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt until just blended. Add butter, and mix until it forms a coarse meal. Add water by the tablespoon, and blend until just moist enough to hold together. Press dough into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Refrigerate for at least an hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead)

Meanwhile, bring the half and half to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and flour in a medium bowl. When half and half is hot, add to egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Return to pan, and whisk over medium heat until it thickens and comes to a boil, 4-5 minutes. Boil for one minute, then pour into medium bowl. Stir in vanilla, and press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pastry cream. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours, or until cold. (This makes two cups of pastry cream, which means you will have extra.)

Core pears and slice very thinly (1/4-1/2 inch wide). In a small saucepan, combine pears, vanilla, sugar, and water, and mix well so pears are completely coated. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then simmer, covered, until pears are soft, about 15 minutes. Cool.

Preheat oven to 350. When tart dough is cool, roll out into a 10-11-inch round, then press into a 9-inch tart pan, crimping sides and pricking all over with a fork. Place pie weights on top, and bake until golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Cool. Top with pastry cream, then arrange pears in a decorative fashion. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 8.