One of my favorite things about visiting my parents in California is the food. Not only is my dad a fantastic cook, and it is a treat to eat at home, but the produce is outstanding! Truly a different caliber than I can get in New York on a regular basis. As a kid growing up I never appreciated what a luxury it is to walk out into the garden for a snack of freshly picked tomatoes or kumquats, but coming from my apartment life in NYC it is truly a rare treat.
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted margarine
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped from the pod
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
5 medium-size firm Anjou pears (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled, halved, cored, each half cut into 4 wedges
Roll out pastry on lightly floured surface to 10-inch square. Trim edges, making 10-inch-diameter round; pierce round all over with fork. Slide onto rimless baking sheet. Cover and chill pastry while preparing pears or up to 1 day.
Fill large skillet with ice and water; set aside. Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in heavy 10-inch-diameter nonstick ovenproof skillet over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until syrup is dark amber color, occasionally swirling and brushing down sides of skillet with wet pastry brush, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in butter, then vanilla-bean seeds and ginger (caramel will bubble up).
Arrange pears, cut side down and overlapping, in circle in skillet, placing a few around edge, if necessary. Place skillet over medium heat. Cook until pears are tender and syrup thickens enough to coat spoon, about 23 minutes. Place hot skillet atop ice in large skillet to cool pear mixture quickly. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place puff pastry round atop pear mixture in skillet; tuck in edges around pears. Bake tart until pastry is puffed and golden, about 35 minutes. Cool tart completely in pan at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Rewarm tart in oven 8 minutes. Place platter atop skillet. Using oven mitts, hold skillet and platter together and turn over, releasing tart. Serve tart with whipped cream.
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