From chef Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Alabama
For the tart:
¾ cup sugar
1 bottle red wine
½ vanilla bean, split
1 (2-inch long) cinnamon stick
6 Bartlett pears, firm but almost ripe
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons Calvados or dark rum
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 (10-inch) tart shell, made with Pâte Brisée (see below), chilled
For the tart shell:
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, diced
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the Tart
In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar, wine, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the cores. Rub with lemon.
Cook pears in simmering syrup until tender, 15-20 minutes. Test for doneness by piercing one of the pears with a paring knife—it should offer very little resistance. Remove from heat and allow pears to cool in poaching liquid, then discard cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. (Pears can be stored in the refrigerator in their cooking liquid for up to 3 days.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add the egg, almonds, flour, Calvados, and almond extract and mix until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour this mixture into the chilled tart shell and spread it evenly.
Remove pears from poaching liquid, letting excess liquid drain off. Set 1 cup of poaching liquid aside. Arrange pears cut side down and close together on the tart, with the narrow ends facing in, until the entire surface of the tart is covered. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over high heat, bring the reserved poaching liquid to a boil and reduce to a glaze; there should be 2-3 tablespoons remaining. Set aside.
As soon as the tart comes out of the oven, brush the pears with reduced poaching liquid. Serve warm or at room temperature.
For the Tart Shell
In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, and salt and pulse a few times, just until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the egg and pulse a few more times, until the mixture resembles small peas; do not overprocess.
Transfer dough to a work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Lightly grease a 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Dust a work surface and the dough with flour and roll out dough into a round 12 inches in diameter. Fit into the tart pan, gently pressing the dough into the bottom and up the sides. Remove any excess dough with a roll of the rolling pin. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees shortly before removing shell from fridge.
To bake the shell, line it with parchment paper or foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and bake until thoroughly dry and golden, 5-8 minutes more. Let shell cool in the pan on a rack before proceeding with the recipe.