Because it’s December 22nd and we all need some more sugar, right? HA! Well…these don’t have any sugar sugar, but it doesn’t matter, they’re still in the category of things that we probably can do without during this time of the year.
So I’m not suggesting that you make them right now, but these are definitely worthy of saving for a day when you are in need of something sweet, a little fancy, and holy-crap-delicious. Maaaaan… Amy Chaplin and those tarts…I mentioned earlier that here’s a whole section of them in her book, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, and I’m not kidding when I say that I’ll be making every single one.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been this excited about tarts before and here’s why: PEARS!! Pears make up the bulk of the filling, and roasted pears are dressing the top. 6 pears + pear juice went into making 8 little tartlets. How cool that? And we even still have some Ontario pears lingering around. I was also intrigued by the creaminess of the filling and was dying to know how Amy made that happen, especially since the filling is vegan. So no eggs or butter in this luxurious creamy filling? WHAT??? I don’t have too much experience with vegan desserts, since eggs and butter are excellent ingredients in my books, but I’m always curious to learn new ways of doing things and experimenting with ingredients to make things that I didn’t know were possible. This vegan pear cream hit the spot.
What is Agar?
That was a big mystery to me before I opened this book, and while there is some great information in the book (both on nutrition and how to use it, I did a little more digging. Agar is a gelling agent derived from a red algae in the Gracilaria species. While not so common in North America, it’s super popular in Japan and is called kanten. Now get this..it’s both a dessert ingredient staple, and ironically, the key component of the “kanten diet” – apparently a popular weight loss diet in Asia. Dessert for weight loss? I’m not endorsing this or anything, but agar has some fibre and supposedly absorbs liquid and bulks up in the digestive tract, which can make us feel fuller (therefore eat less) and act as a laxative – kind of like chia seeds, I guess. Anyway, I don’t think there’s any conclusive evidence on its use for weight loss, but its culinary use is interesting. Oh..and these tartlets are safe, in case you’re wondering about the laxative effect.
Agar vs. Gelatine
Agar is commonly used as a vegetarian gelatine substitute, but it actually has some different (and often more favourable) properties. Unlike gelatine, which needs to be refrigerated to set and will melt at around 35°C, agar has a wider and warmer set-melt window. While it does need to be dissolved and boiled in a liquid first, it’ll set as it cools down (in the 30°C – 40°C range), but won’t melt unless reheated to 85°C, which allows it to have a wider array of culinary applications, especially in foods that are served warm. Texture-wise, it’s similar to gelatine, but doesn’t melt in your mouth the same way due to the warmer melting point. But all that aside, I think the reason that agar is used in this recipe is that its vegetarian, like all of the recipes in Amy’s book.
On to the Pear Tartlets (+ Parfaits)
For this pear filling recipe, agar flakes are boiled and dissolved in pear juice, then the mixture is blended with cooked pears, cashews, maple syrup, and vanilla. Slightly thickened with arrowroot starch, this mixture cools to a thick and creamy pear jello, and then whisked vigorously and transformed into a creamy & dreamy filling, which tastes just like…you guessed it…pears!
I was ready to stop right there and just eat my whole jar of filling with a spoon, but those little tart crusts looked pretty darn good too. They’re made with oats, nuts, coconut flour and brown rice flour and taste like cookies.
If you’re not sold yet, I must tell you that my favourite part about this dessert was actually the topping – the roasted pears. Warm, aromatic, and slightly caramelized at the tips (which I may have taken a little too far), these will make an excellent topping for many future breakfasts and desserts around here.
The filling and crusts can be made up to 3 days in advance, and that’s exactly what I did with the filling. That whole part about eating the filling out of a jar with a spoon? That was for real. By day 3, when I was finally ready to make the crusts and assemble the tartlets, I was running a little low on the filling, so I halved the crust recipe and made a few tartlets + the lovely little teacup parfaits that you see in the picture. The recipe below is my adapted version, but with enough crust for all 8 tartlets.
Adapted from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin. The ingredients and process have been slightly modified to accommodate my cooking style.
- 1 cup rolled oats (gluten-free if necessary)
- 1 cup almonds (or almond meal)
- 1/4 cup brown rice flour
- 1/4 cup coconut flour
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 6 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup + 1 Tbsp. pear nectar
- 1/4 cup agar flakes
- 3 ripe pears (Amy suggests Bartlet or Anjou, I used Bosc)
- 1 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
- 3/4 cup cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours or overnight
- 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 firm ripe pears (Amy suggests Bartlet or Anjou, I used Bosc), peeled, quartered, cored, then sliced lengthwise
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- In a medium pot, whisk together agar and pear nectar. Whisking continuously, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, peel, core, and chop pears. When agar is dissolved, add the pears to the pot, bring back to a simmer, then lower heat again, and cook for about 5 – 10 minutes until pears are soft.
- Dissolve the arrowroot starch in remaining tablespoon of nectar and add to the cooking pear mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.
- Combine the hot pear mixture, drained cashews, maple syrup, and vanilla in a blender. Starting with a low setting, increase the speed of the blender until the mixture is completely smooth.
- Empty into a shallow bowl, cool slightly, then refrigerate for an hour. The mixture should resemble a creamy jello.
- Now this is where the magic happens. Whisk the mixture vigorously until creamy and smooth (you can also use a food processor), then store refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. If making the tartlets, line the pan bottoms with parchment circles and grease with coconut or olive oil.
- Combine the dry (first 5) ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender, and process until finely ground.
- Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly to form a wet and sticky mixture.
- Set aside for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture is still moist, but no longer sticky.
- For the tarts: Divide the dough evenly between shells and press it in evenly with your hands. Place the tartlet shells on a baking tray.
- For the teacup parfaits: Crumble the dough and spread out on a parchment lined tray.
- Bake shells or crumble for 8 minutes. Rotate trays and bake for 8 minutes longer, watching it closely, until the crusts are just starting to brown (mine are a little too brown).
- Remove from oven and cool completely.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- On a parchment lined baking tray, toss the pear slices with maple syrup and olive oil, then arrange in a single layer.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until edges are starting to caramelize.
- Remove from the oven and when the pears are cool enough to handle, remove them from the tray and store in a bowl, until ready to use.
- For the tartlets: Carefully remove shells from the tartlet pans and divide the cream filling evenly between shells. Top with roasted pears and any additional toppings
- For the teacup parfaits: Further crumble the dough clumps into what should look like a cookie crumble. Divide crumbs, cream, roasted pears, and optional toppings between cups, layer in that order, and serve.
- Both tarts and parfaits can be refrigerated for a few hours before the crusts start getting soggy