A blind orphan threads her way through the streets of Saint Malo at the end of the World War II, with a fresh-baked loaf under her arm. Her name is Marie-Laure and dry bread is all she will have to eat for several days… .
Hidden in the loaf are coordinates destined for the Allied Forces, pin-pointing where the Nazis are headquartered in the town, where their supplies are stored, where their ammunition is kept. Marie-Laure’s uncle radios this vital information across the airwaves on a powerful set hidden in their attic.
Saint Malo, a port city on France’s Atlantic coast, sags under the hand of Nazi occupation. But not forever. What its citizens lack in freedom and food… they make up for in courage. With the collaboration of people like Marie-Laure and her Uncle Etienne, Americans decimate the German army. The losses are on both sides, and we mourn for the young German soldier who comes to Marie-Laure’s rescue in the dying days of the war.
All this is beautifully told in Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-prize-winning book All the Light We Cannot See. Perhaps because of my recent trip to France where I heard personal stories about the French Resistance, I was completely captivated by Doerr’s characters.
To honor Marie-Laure and those souls she has come to represent, I baked a French pear tart for my book club this week, where we discussed Doerr’s work. I chose this dessert because Marie and her dad enjoyed it together in Paris.
The recipe is an adaptation of several I found on the Internet. This blog, your blog, emails, tweets, instagrams… coming to you via all the light we cannot see… whizzing all around us on invisible airwaves: We owe so much to so many for what we have today. Let’s not forget.
French chocolate-and-pear tart
Makes one 9-inch pie cut into 10 small, rich portions
Bake the pie shell
- 1 frozen 9-inch (23-cm) deep-dish pie shell, pricked with a fork
- Bake the shell on a cookie sheet at 375F to a soft golden brown or according to the package directions, about 15 minutes.
Poach the pears
- 4 small ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, with stem left in place
- 2 cups (0.5 litre) of water
- juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons)
- 1/2 cup (125 grams) sugar or stevia equivalent
- Bring the water, juice and sweetener to a boil in a pan large enough to hold the five pears in a single layer.
- Cut out a piece of parchment paper the size of the pot and slice a hole into the middle to release steam.
- Add the peeled pears to the boiling water and cover with the paper.
- Return to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pears should be fork tender.
- Remove pot from heat and let pears cool in the cooking liquid (about 20 minutes).
- Cut the top off each pear and lay the tops evenly around the outer edge of the baked pie crust. If the pear doesn’t extend above the pie’s rim, use a slice from the pear bottoms to raise it. I didn’t do this, and custard covered the pears – less pretty.
- Core the bottom of each pear and cut two or three of them in quarters and slice. You will likely have some to save.
Mix the chocolate custard
- 115 g dark chocolate (4 ounces), cut into chunks
- 90 grams coconut oil (1/2 cup)
- 2 large eggs
- 100 grams coconut palm sugar (3/4 cup)
- 20 grams cocoa powder (1/4 cup)
- 50 grams white chocolate chips (1/3 cup)
- 2 tablespoons Grande Marnier, optional
- Melt the coconut oil in a pot suspended over a pan of simmering water.
- Add the chopped chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is nearly melted. Turn off the heat and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
- Beat the eggs with the coconut palm sugar using a hand mixer, until it lightens in color, and gets thick and bubbly (about 5 minutes).
- Pour the cooled chocolate over the egg mixture slowly, and mix in gently with a spatula. Add the cocoa and fold in with your spatula. Fold in the white chocolate chips.
Finish the pie
- Pour the chocolate custard around the pear tops in the shell and shake it a little it to even it out.
- Arrange the pear slices from the pear bottoms in a pleasing pattern around the pie to fill in the spaces. You can be as creative as you like.
- Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes, just until the filling is set. It should lose its shine and not wobble when shaken.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Wrap in foil and refrigerate until time to serve. Can be frozen.
- Makes 10 tasty small rich wedges. Don’t eat the stems!
- 325 calories in a small slice (1/10th of the pie)
- 20 grams of sugar, four times a standard healthy serving of sweetness. Enjoy on special occasions… like your book club meetings :).
- Excellent source of iron, fiber, and vitamins E and B. Plus, according to one member: It may be the best thing you’ve ever eaten!
- I baked this without the pie crust for my sister, who must eat gluten free. The dessert came out perfectly. Now I make it this way all the time. Who needs chunks of pastry?
- For a Christmas party, I bought a bunch of mini paper baking shells and made 35 individual little cakes. I laid a chunk of poached pear in the bottom of each shell and covered it with 1 tablespoon of the batter. I baked them for 10 minutes at 350F. Perfecto!