6 small ‘Seckle’ or ‘Forelle’ pears, peeled, stems intact, bottoms trimmed if needed so pears can stand erect
¾ cup water
½ cup maple syrup
Juice and 3 strips of peel from ½ lemon (use a vegetable peeler)
½ vanilla bean
Pinch of salt
1 package puff pastry (I used all-butter Dufour brand pastry)
1. Fit the pears into a small saucepan that holds them snugly. Mix together the water, maple syrup, lemon juice, lemon peel, vanilla, and salt. Pour over the pears. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer until the pears are tender (do not overcook—you want the pears to hold their shape). Remove from the heat and allow the pears to cool in the syrup. Discard the lemon peel and vanilla bean.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the pastry slightly and cut out 6 4-inch squares. Position the squares in the holes of a 6-cup jumbo muffin pan (the dough will fit in the bottom of the cup and not come all the way up the sides). Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately push down the center of the pastry, which will have puffed during baking. Cool on a rack.
3. Remove the cooled pastry from the muffin cups. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears from the syrup and place one in each pastry case. Put each pear on a small dessert plate.
4. Boil the poaching liquid until it is thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drizzle syrup over the pear tarts.
Pear Tart Image: (cc) Stu Spivack/Flickr