Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Yuletide Carol


The lovely Anne Strawberry is hosting this month's You Want Pies With That?. The premise behind YWPWT is to make a pie (or anything pie-ish like a tart) inspired by the chosen theme. Then everyone who made a pie can vote for their favorite pie and the baker with the most votes gets to host and choose the theme the following month. Anne Strawberry asked us to make a pie inspired by our favorite holiday song. What a fun theme!


The hardest part for me was deciding which holiday song is my favorite. The local "easy listening" radio station always changes its format this time of year and plays holiday music 24/7 beginning the weekend before Thanksgiving through Christmas. I'm sure you have a radio station in your area that does the same thing. So I've been listening to a lot of holiday tunes. Even though it's not really a Chistmas-y song, I really like "Last Christmas" by Wham! (aka George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley). I was a teenager when MTV first aired and I just loved the fabulousness of the Wham! music videos. The neon. The cheesy dancing. And the saxophone in Careless Whisper. But a pie inspired by heartache didn’t seem to evoke holiday spirit.

So I decided to go with my all time favorite, "The Christmas Song" written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells. It's sometimes known as "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire". The lyrics are heartwarming.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight

They know that Santa's on his way
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother's child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly

And so I'm offering this simple phrase
For kids from one to ninety two
Although it's been said many times many ways
Merry Christmas to you

I know it's not the most inspired choice since chestnuts are a food and could easily be translated into a pie, but it really is my favorite song. Whether sung by Nat King Cole or Tony Bennett or the Carpenters, I always stop to listen when it's playing.


I didn’t find many chestnut pie recipes "out there" on the internet, but I remembered seeing a chestnut and pear tart in my Dessert by Pierre Herme cookbook. I love pears and I love chestnuts. I would've never thought to combine the two but Pierre Herme mentions that they are a natural complement. Who am I to question him? A tart with diced pears and chestnuts nestled in a custardy, clafoutis-like filling sounded pretty good to me. So I forged ahead and made his tart.


The filling had just a hint of sweetness and was creamy. The combination of pears and chestnuts are nice but very subtle. Neither one stood out and tasters couldn't identify what was in the tart unless I told them. I liked the look of the phyllo crown that adorned the tart and I liked the crunch, but the phyllo didn’t really add too much flavorwise. Overall I think my tart looked great but the taste was just okay. I'm sure if I ever had the opportunity to taste one from his bakery in Paris I would change my mind. The Picasso of Pastry can't be wrong.

I don’t believe that the changes I made greatly affected my results. My modifications:
- I used a different tart dough recipe for my tart shell since I had already made some dough a couple weeks ago.
- I didn't want to buy chestnut puree since I only needed 3 tablespoons. So I made my own by simmering some roasted chestnuts in a bit of heavy cream and a pinch of sugar. When the chestnuts were soft, I pureed the mixture.
- I used Greek yogurt instead of crème fraiche.
- My phyllo decoration was made with broken sheets of phyllo because I didn’t plan ahead and thaw my phyllo dough ahead of time. It would've been much prettier if I had used full sheets of phyllo.


Chestnut and Pear Tart
(from Desserts by Pierre Herme by Dorie Greenspan)
(makes one 26 cm tart)

Enough tart dough to line a 26-cm shell (see tart dough recipe below)

Instructions for partially prebaking the tart shell:

Place a butter tart ring or tart pan on a parchment lined baking sheet. Working with one piece of dough, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/16 to 1/8-inch thick. Fit the dough gently into the bottom and up the sides of your tart ring or tart pan. Cut off the excess dough so that the edges are flush with the sides of the ring. Chill tart shell for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.

Line the tart shell with foil or parchment, fill with beans or rice and bake it for just 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the crust to cool to room temperature.

tart ring lined with dough

2 to 3 very ripe medium pears (Comice or Bartlett pears are good here)
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons unsweetened chestnut puree (stir before measuring)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup crème fraiche
1 1/2 teaspoons Scotch whisky
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup dry bottled chestnuts

Instructions for filling and baking the tart:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Core and cut the unpeeled pears into small (about 1/3 inch) cubes; you should have about 2 1/2 cups of fruit. Toss the pears in a bowl with the lemon juice to keep them from darkening and set aside. (Pierre likes the extra flavor and texture he gets by keeping the skin on the pears. If the skin on your pears is thick, or if keeping the skin on doesn't appeal to you, by all means, peel the pears.)

Scrape the chestnut puree into a medium bowl and, using a whisk, stir the puree to loosen it, and then blend in the milk and crème fraiche. One by one, add the whisky, sugar and eggs, stirring until the mixture is smooth. There's no reason to be overzealous - you're aiming to make sure the filling is smooth, not airy. With your fingers, break the chestnuts into small pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the crust. Turn the pears into the crust, spreading them evenly over the chestnuts, and then pour in the filling (you might find this easier to do if you put the baking sheet with the tart shell into the oven before you pour in the filling); depending on how much or how little your crust shrank during baking, you may have some filling leftover.

Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a slender knife inserted into the custard comes out clean. Remove the tart from the oven and, keeping it in the pan on the baking sheet, set it on a rack to cool. (You can make the phyllo topping while the tart cools or do it later, at your convenience.)

chestnuts and pears scattered
pour in the custard

Phyllo decoration:
3 sheets phyllo
Confectioner's sugar

Instructions for phyllo decoration:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the outer circle of a 10-inch tart pan on a baking sheet. Working with 1 piece of phyllo at a time, and keeping the other pieces under a damp cloth, scrunch the phyllo to fit it inside the tart ring. Neatness doesn't count here, so just get the phyllo, with all its hills and valleys, into the ring and then pat it down lightly. Repeat with the 2 remaining sheets, piling the sheets one on top of another. Dust the top of the phyllo crown evenly but not too heavily with confectioner's sugar and slide the baking sheet into the oven.

Bake the phyllo for 5 to 7 minutes, or just until the top sheet is shiny and caramelized. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the crown cool to room temperature.

To serve, remove the tart from its pan, transfer it to a serving platter and top with the phyllo.

Keeping: The tart should be served at room temperature - it's really best kept out of the refrigerator - and eaten the day it is made.

Tart Dough
(makes enough dough for three 26-cm tarts)

13 ounces (3 sticks plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp milk, at room temp
1 large egg yolk, at room temp, lightly beaten
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed until creamy. Add the milk, egg yolk, sugar and salt and beat until mixture is roughly blended about 1-2 minutes. (It's okay if the mixture looks curdled.) On low speed, add the flour in 3 or 4 additions. There is no need to wait for the flour to be thoroughly incorporated after each addition. Mix until the ingredients come together to form a soft, moist dough that doesn’t clean the sides of the bowl but does hold together. Don't overmix.

Gather the dough into a ball and divide it into 3 pieces. Gently shape each piece into a thick disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.

(Note: You will only need 1 of the 3 pieces for the chestnut and pear tart. You can save the other 2 pieces for another use. The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.)



Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

An awesome pie! I bet it tastes fantastic!



VeggieGirl said...


Anne said...

What a beautiful pie! I love the decoration and the flavors sound amazing. Great job!

Natashya said...

It really is pretty, I love the phyllo crown.
I haven't had chestnuts in a pie before - I must give it a try sometime.. you can't go to wrong with Dorie and Pierre!
Great YWPWT entry!

Madam Chow said...

I have to tell you, I don't know how you could have improved on the appearance. It's absolutely gorgeous. Presentation is my weak point! And I picked the same song, sung by Nat King Cole!

Peabody said...

Outstanding. Chestnuts, a little whiskey in there (nice) and pears. Yum.

Mary Ann said...

This looks fabulous. I have never tried a chestnut, but the combination of pear and phyllo and the custard- it just looks delicious. I really like The Christmas Song too. Lovely!

Nichi said...

Thats very pretty, I love the phyllo on top.

Carrie said...

What a pretty pie, I like the phyllo top! Great Job! :-)

kimberleyblue said...

I'm not a big pie-fan, but this looks stunning!

Great job - you have a non-pie lover tempted! :)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

It looks stunning Mary!

Jacque said...

That is such an interesting and creative pie. Great job tying your pie to the song.

Brilynn said...

Although I'm not a fan of holiday songs, I am definitely a fan of that pie, it looks great!

Tartelette said...

Sorry the taste did not turn out as you hoped but as you said it the "complement" trip to Paris could have helped!!
However...I LOVE your phyllo decorations! Good call!

Anonymous said...

It looks beautiful - worthy of a Christmas card.

Max mickle said...

This Yuletide Carol with chestnuts looks so beautiful with the colors, I'm sure it'll be a big hit with the kids! Nice colors!