Even the slowest-moving cook can have this showstopper ready to go into the oven in 30 minutes, start to finish.
There aren't many ingredients here, so the quality of the pastry dough is of critical importance. Only all-butter puff pastry will produce a superior tart. Other kinds will work, but the taste will suffer.
You'll need an 8-inch cast-iron skillet.
Make Ahead: The unbaked tart can be prepared up to 8 hours in advance, covered with aluminum foil and refrigerated. Store any leftovers wrapped in aluminum foil.
- 2/3 cup sugar, plus generous 1 teaspoon for the pastry
- 2 tablespoons water
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 sheet (at least 9 ounces) frozen all-butter puff pastry dough, such as Dufour brand, defrosted
- 2 or 3 small Bartlett pears, ripe yet still firm, peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into quarters (may substitute other sweet pears, such as Anjou or Comice)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
- 1 egg (any size)
- Whipped cream or ginger ice cream, for serving (optional)
Combine the 2/3 cup of sugar and the water in a small saucepan, swirling the pan gently to make sure all the sugar is wet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then start watching the pan carefully, without stirring. The bubbles will get bigger and pop more slowly until, over the next 15 minutes or so, the liquid starts to color: first to a pale amber, then butterscotch, then a medium-dark copper. At that point, add the butter one piece at a time, stirring vigorously until it melts.
Turn off the heat; stir in the ground ginger and salt. Pour the caramel into the skillet and let it set up a little while you prepare the crust.
Place the sheet of puff pastry dough on a clean work surface; use your fingers to smooth over any deep creases. Use a paring knife to cut out a round slightly smaller than 8 inches in diameter. Set the round on a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use. Wrap and refrigerate the excess pastry for another use.
Arrange the pears in the skillet rounded sides down, with their narrow stem ends pointing toward the center to create a flower pattern, paring/shaping them to fit if needed; you should be able to fit at least 8 pear quarters in the skillet. If a large open space is left in the center, pare down another pear quarter into a round to fill the hole. Scatter the crystallized ginger evenly over the pears and any exposed caramel. Drape the puff pastry over the top, tucking in any exposed edges.
At this point, you can bake immediately or cover the skillet with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the egg in a small bowl; brush it evenly over the pastry, avoiding any exposed cut edges of the dough. (You will not need all of the egg.) Sprinkle the pastry with the remaining generous teaspoon of sugar. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden, with deep-amber edges, and the juices are bubbling.
Cool the tart for 20 minutes. It will be quite juicy. Very carefully tilt the skillet over a small saucepan, if you want to save the liquid, or the kitchen sink, if you don't, and gently pour off as much of it as you can; you might need to hold your impeccably clean hand over the pastry to keep it in place. Invert the tart onto a serving plate (hold the plate over the top of the pan and flip them together).
If you have collected the liquid in a saucepan, bring it to a boil over medium-high heat; cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until it has thickened a little and become slightly syrupy. Just before serving, pour or brush some of the hot syrup over the pears to glaze them.
Serve warm, either plain or with whipped cream or ginger ice cream, if desired.
Inspired by a sweet potato tarte Tatin recipe by Bayou Bakery chef-owner David Guas.
Tested by Jane Touzalin.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.