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Pear and Chocolate Tart

The pear was much preferred to the apple by the Greeks and Romans and has enjoyed waves of popularity throughout Europe ? in Britain, this reached a high point in the nineteenth century when it was referred to as pearmania. The problem with pears - and there are now many varieties - is that it is not easy to be sure when they are ripe and their period of perfect ripeness may last for just a few hours; for this reason most cautious fruiterers and supermarkets keep very hard, teeth-crunching varieties which do not always bake well.

ingredients

serves 6
175 g (6 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry

for the pear filling:

3 dessert pears, peeled and cored, but left whole
300 ml (1/2 pint) red wine (or water)
3 tablespoons medium sherry
juice of 1/2 orange
2 heaped tablespoons dark soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly
125 g (4 1/2 oz) plain or milk chocolate digestive biscuits
55 g (2 oz) dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

for the chocolate custard:

225 ml (8 fl oz) double cream
115 g (4 oz) good-quality dark cooking chocolate, broken into squares
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar
sifted icing sugar, to decorate

method

1. Line a shallow 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.

2. Place the pears in an oven-proof baking dish. Add the wine, sherry, orange juice, sugar, spices and redcurrant jelly and give it a good stir.

3. Cover and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the pears are cooked and tender. Remove the pears from the dish using a slotted spoon, then slice each pear lengthwise and put on one side.

4. Boil the poaching liquid in a pan until it reduces and thickens, then turn off the heat.

5. Roughly chop the digestive biscuits and spread the biscuits and chocolate over the base of the pre-baked pastry case. Spoon over 3 tablespoons thickened poaching liquid, then place the pears on top 'face-down' with the narrow ends meeting in the middle of the tart. Set aside.

6. Put the cream, chocolate and vanilla essence in a saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly, then add the beaten egg and egg yolk and stir to mix. Spoon the mixture on top of the pears, filling in the gaps but leaving the rounded pear 'bottoms' still exposed. Sprinkle with caster sugar to encourage the pears to 'glaze'.

7. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until the custard is mottled all over and feels set. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then sprinkle with sifted icing sugar.

SERVE warm or cold with any remaining poaching liquid or with cream.

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