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Fall’s Forgotten Fruit

Embracing the potential of pears in autumn desserts

by

It’s easy to get swarmed by the flavors of fall. From baked goods and main dishes to coffee and even beer, it seems like everywhere you turn is apple-cinnamon this or pumpkin-spice that. Fall is my favorite season, so I’ll admit that I’m guilty of embracing all of it (as I sit here in my room with my cinnamon pumpkin wall plug-in). And the amount of apple pies, tarts, butters, and strudels I make can get a little obsessive.

It’s important to remember that the season brings so much more than just apples and pumpkins. Take pears, for example. They’re in season beginning in late August, meaning that right now they are hitting their peak. I myself, being an equal opportunist, am putting a hold on my apple-fest and shifting my dessert focus to pears.

Why have pears become fall’s forgotten fruit? In many ways, a pear can be used in the same ways apples are. Like an apple, pears have a thin, but tough outer skin with a crisp and juicy center. These tender, yet firm fruits lend themselves to a variety of uses. You can enjoy them whole, diced into a salad, juiced, pureed, and even baked. That’s one of pears’ little secrets: They are just as wonderful for baked goods such as pies, tarts, and cakes as the fall favorite, apples.

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But pears are also quite distinct from apples, and have their own unique qualities. A ripe pear is, as Homer wrote, a gift from the gods. A perfectly ripe pear has a melting quality, unlike any crisp apple, which makes it an ideal ingredient for a variety of baked goods. Soft, juicy pears bake well into delicate cakes — like in the Spiced Chocolate Pear Upside Down cake I’ve highlighted, where ripe pears are sliced and delicately baked into a rich, spiced chocolate cake. The understated sweetness of pears also matches surprisingly well with chocolate, whereas apples would be too tart for such a combination. This cake is a perfect blend of sweetness and spice, and can last throughout pear season and even into the holidays.

Still-firm pears are perfectly fine for baking, too. My favorite use for them is in a dumpling. These pear dumplings are more than just a swap-out. The pears are poached before being surrounded by a square of puff pastry. Another beauty of pears is how perfectly they poach, which brings them richness and immense amount of flavors. Their smooth flesh allows them to easily absorb poaching liquids without crumbling or becoming grainy like an apple would. To make the perfect pear dumpling, poach still-firm pears in a delicate bath of water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks, and anise seeds before enveloping them in puff pastry along with an addictive almond filling. The final product is an extremely light and somewhat more sophisticated dumpling than your typical rustic apple kind.

Of course, there are some desserts that are delicious no matter which type of orchard fruit you use, like the classic crumble. This caramelized pear crumble is like a play on caramel apples. Caramelize the pear chunks in a pan (which is more appealing than just being drenched in a gooey caramel coat), sprinkle with a bright burst of freshly grated ginger, then topped with a sweet crumble and bake until golden. This dessert proves that, for many recipes, pears serve as a fine substitution for apples if you find yourself without the latter (or prefer a change of pace).

If you’re growing tired of the apple craze, want to capitalize on the falling prices of pears, or are simply just looking to try some new, in-season desserts, give pears a chance. Making the simple switch to pears can help turn your overdone apple desserts into a sophisticated new treat. I promise these desserts will not disappoint.

Pear Chocolate Upside-Down Cake

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Ingredients

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 ripe pears (Bosc or Bartlett) peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
⅓ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
⅔ cup boiling water
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups sifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Melt ¼ cup of the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar until well combined and remove the skillet from the heat. Arrange the pear slices in tight, overlapping circles on top of the sugar mixture, with the thin ends facing toward the center. Brush the sides of the plan with the melted butter.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and boiling water. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, one quarter of the cocoa mixture, and the vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, lightly mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. Beat in the remaining 10 tablespoons of the butter and the remaining cocoa mixture. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Beat in the egg mixture, a third at a time, beating the mixture for 15-20 seconds between each addition.

Spoon the batter over the pears, smoothing it evenly with an offset spatula. Bake until a toothpick emerges clean, 40-45 minutes. Remove skillet from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Run an offset spatula around the edges of the cake. Place a large plate on top of the skillet and carefully flip the cake over onto the plate. Let the cake stand for 2 minutes before lifting the skillet. Cool completely before serving.

Makes 1 10-inch cake

Recipe from Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck’s Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes (Running Press, 2014)

Pear and Almond Dumplings

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Ingredients

For poached pears:
Ice water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 firm Bartlett pears
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon anise seeds

For almond filling:
¼ cup almond paste
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

Puff pastry (recipe below)

Instructions

For poached pears:
Half-fill a 4 to 5-quart covered pot with ice water and lemon juice. Peel, halve, and core the pears, dropping them in one piece at a time. Skim out the ice, add the sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and anise seeds and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute, cover the pan, remove from the heat, and let the pears cool in the syrup.

For almond filling:

Beat the almond paste and sugar together at medium speed in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Beat in 1 yolk and continue beating until smooth and free of lumps. Beat in the remaining yolk and the butter, followed by the flour. Set aside.

To assemble dumplings:

Drain the pears and trim the stem ends off to make them round.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface to an 8 x 16-inch rectangle. Cut it in half and roll each half to 8 x 16 inches again. If the dough begins to get soft, slide the pieces onto a cookie sheet and chill for a few minutes.

Place one sheet of dough on the work surface and, using a ruler, mark it into 4-inch squares. Cut them apart, line them up on sheet lined with parchment paper. Spoon a dab of almond filling into the center of each. The cover each dab with a pear half.

Mark and cut the second piece of dough as above. Then use a sharp knife or pastry wheel to cut a 2-inch cross in the center of each piece, ends pointing toward the corners of the square. Lightly brush egg wash around each pastry’s pear, then lay one of the dough squares over it, lining up the edges of the pastry so that the top of the dumpling opens at the cut cross. Press with a fingertip all around the perimeter of the square. Repeat with the remaining pastry squares, then cover the dumplings loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours.

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Use a dry brush to dab egg wash of the pastries, then bake until well rise and baked through, 45 to 55 minutes.

Cool the dumplings on a rack and serve warm. Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar before serving or with honey and sliced almonds.

Makes 8 pastries

Recipe adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Pastry: Foolproof Recipes for the Home Cook (Kyle Books, 2014)

Puff Pastry

Ingredients

For dough:
2⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
⅔ cup cold water, plus 1 tablespoon more if needed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

For butter block:
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 ¾ stick unsalted butter, cold

Instructions

1. Combine the flour and butter in a bowl and rub in the butter so that no visible pieces remain. Do not overmix where it becomes pasty. Stir the water and salt together and sprinkle all over the flour. Use a rubber spatula to dig to the bottom of the bowl and bring up the unmoistened flour, turning the bowl as you go. Don’t exert pressure on the dough, just bring the spatula up from the bottom of the bowl. After 10 to 12 strokes, if there are any dry bits of flour remaining, sprinkle a few drops of water until they adhere.

2. Scrape the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured surface and dust the top with flour. Use your hands and a ruler to shape the dough into an 8 inch square. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

3. Shortly before the hour is up prepare the butter block: Scatter half the flour on the work surface and cut the butter into 5 or 6 pieces. Turn the pieces in the flour to coat them and use a rolling pin to gently pound each piece of butter to soften it. Once all the butter has been pounded, scatter on some of the remaining flour, dusting the work surface again if necessary; stack one piece of butter on another and use the rolling pin to hammer them together. Repeat, adding the remaining pieces of butter to the stack. Scatter on the last of the flour, then quickly knead the butter into a solid mass and use your hands and a rule to shape the butter into an 8-inch square.

4. Set the butter aside, scrape your work surface free of any sticky bits of butter and flour it once more. Unwrap the chilled dough and place in on the work surface; flour the dough and roll it evenly into an 8 x 16-inch rectangle, with the short edge near you. Brush away any excess flour on the dough’s surface and place the butter on the end closest to you. Fold the dough down the enclose the butter and pinch the edges of the dough together.

5. Flour under and on top of the dough and use the rolling pin to start pressing the package of dough and butter in a succession of gently and even strokes, moving from the closer edge to the farther. Roll the dough to form an 8 x 16-inch rectangle.

6. Brush excess flour from the dough, then fold both narrow ends toward the middle, leaving about ½ inch space between them.

7. Fold the dough in half along that center line to make 4 layers. Position the folded package of dough so that the closed fold, like a spine of a book, is on your left. Repeat step 5 until the dough is an 8 x 16-inch rectangle. Repeat step 6.

8. Wrap and chill the dough for an hour or so.

9. Repeat step 7 twice more.

10. Wrap and chill the dough for at least half a day.

Recipe adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Pastry: Foolproof Recipes for the Home Cook (Kyle Books, 2014)

Caramelized Pear Crumble

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Ingredients

For filling:
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup packed light brown sugar
4 medium pears, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger

For crumble topping:
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoon all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cubed

Instructions

To make the crumble, mix together the oats, brown sugar, flour. Add the 8 tablespoons of butter and combine with your hands until the mixture forms a chunky crumb topping.

To make filling, in a sauce pan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter until it foams. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the butter and cook until it dissolves.

Add the pears and ginger and cook, stirring rarely, until the pears have slightly softened and released their juices.

Divide the pears into 6 ramekins. Top each ramekin with the crumble mixture.

Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until golden and filling is bubbling.

Photos by Rachel Wisniewski

Alicia Lamoureux is currently studying Nutrition and Food Science at Drexel University. She enjoys cooking and loves the challenge of creating complex and delicious homemade dishes out of her small college kitchen. Her cooking motto is WWJD? — What Would Julia Do?

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