Pears: The Aromatic Fruit

Sunday October 23, 2016

artwork by gallardo

I adore fresh pears.  Next to apples, oranges, and bananas, pears are the most common winter fruit.

A delicate fruit with a short harvest period, we can enjoy fresh pears from Washington and Oregon all winter due to the convenience of cold storage that slows the delicate off-the-tree ripening process.

Each variety has its own distinct appearance and flavor and autumn pears are known for their firmer texture during baking.  Pears are easily eaten out of hand, sliced in fruit salads, or paired fresh with cheese for dessert, but the baked desserts they make are positively ethereal, even a bit exotic.

From the greenish Anjou to the buttery smooth Comice and tapered Boscs, buy pears that are plump, free of blemishes, and, most important, still firm, so they can hold their shape after poaching or baking.  Although all pear varieties are good for cooking, my favorites are the aromatic yellow-skinned or Red Bartlett and the large, bulbous Comice.  Both have a smooth flesh without any grittiness, but always need to be peeled before baking, as the skin is very tough.

The following fruit pie and pear cake are anything but common; both are incredibly delicious and are a permanent part of my quick-to-prepare winter dessert repertoire.

The pear cake blankets the fruit under a layer of baked custard and the pie simply piles the sliced pears into a raw shell while its crumb topping contains enough sweetening and spices to flavor the entire pie. This is the perfect place to use a good-quality commercially made frozen crust to save time, as it is so tender and buttery that even the most accomplished baker can’t tell it from homemade.

My Absolute Favorite Pear Crumble Pie

Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 medium Bartlett pears, still firm to the touch
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or GF flour baking mixture (like from Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/4 cup organic granulated cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/3 cup (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • One frozen prepared pie crust, unthawed, or homemade 9-inch single pie crust, chilled or frozen

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400º.  Peel, halve, and core the pears.  Cut each halve into 3 thick slices and pile into the frozen pie crust, mounding the fruit higher in the center.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugars, and spices.  Cut in the cold butter pieces with your fingers, pastry cutter, or use a food processor, just until coarse crumbs are formed.  Holding your hand around the edge to prevent spilling, cover the pears evenly with the spicy crumble topping.

Bake in the center of the hot oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and pears are tender.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Beth’s Pear Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 3 medium Bartlett pears, still firm to the touch
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350º.  In a medium bowl or bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, combine the flour, brown sugar, spices, and salt.  Cut in the cold butter pieces with your fingers, pastry cutter, or use a food processor, just until coarse crumbs are formed; like for a crumb topping.  Divide the mixture in half (reserve half for topping).  Place half of the flour mixture in a greased 9-inch square or round baking dish, at least 3 inches deep.  Press to make an even layer over the bottom of the pan.

Peel, halve, and core the pears.  Cut each halve into 4 slices and arrange a tight single layer of the pears over the flour mixture.

Add the sour cream, baking soda, and egg to the remaining flour mixture.  Beat well just until smooth.  Pour the batter over the pear slices and spread evenly out to the sides.

Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the topping is firm and pears are tender.  Serve warm or at room temperature the same day it is made, cut out of the pan.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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