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A Wonderful Pear and Almond Crumble

(post, Cara Montgomery)

On my way to a season of Apple Cake baking, I stumbled once more into the wonderful world of the Pear Almond Crumble. This was for several, significant, reasons. Firstly , I still had the bottle of expensive, barely used eau de poire- I used Williams Chirst Pear Brandy, you know the brandy where the pear is grown in a bottle,- and when baked with fresh pears , gives off the most haunting aroma and subtle flavor. Then there was the almond paste lurking in the cupboard, along with some very fresh Penzeys Spices ginger and as always, Froghollow Apricot Conserve. Fresh flour, plenty of sugar and a freezer full of Stonywell Vanilla ice cream and it was a no brainer. But the clincher was finding aromatic, ripe pears. I used about 6 large, peeled and sliced pears, but frankly this recipe could have accommodated more.

Does anyone remember  Julia Child's recipe, not in "Mastering", but one of the other books, which sadly I no longer seem to possess, for a simple pear crisp with some apricot jam on top with crumbled macaroons over it? I think it was one of those dinners in 30 minutes- at any rate, a simple, weeknight desert. This Pear and Almond Crumble is a simply a more sophisticated version of that,a  bells and whistles cousin. Pears, unlike apples, do not require a lot of peeling, and my pears were so ripe the skin practically slid off. However, there is a point at which a pear is too ripe- it's an intuitive thing, isn't it- and then it's no longer worth the effort to go into production. If the pears are fragrant and soft- not too - then it's a good moment , and although pears may be sold all years long, they taste ineffable for only a few months. Enough said!

The Topping:

6 Tbsp. butter or non daily style butter substitute
1 cup all purpose unbleached four
good pinch of sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp ground ginger depending on how strong you like the taste- I use less
a few drops of almond extract
1/2 cylinder- about three ounces of almond paste,grated on a large grater
1/2 cup slivered, toasted almonds.

For the apricot mixture:

1/4 cup- generous of Froghollow Apricot Conserve or other apricot jam
1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
grated rind of a lemon, preferably organic

For the pears: 1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice, plus a little to keep sprinkling the pears
1- 2 Tbsp. eau de poire 
6-8 large , fragrant pears- any kind, ripe but not overripe, peeled, and sliced
Penzeys Spices Vanilla Sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees and butter an oblong glass baking dish. Grate the butter on a large grater and blend with the flour , mixed with the sugar , the ginger, the salt and the extracts using a pastry blender. Add the almonds and the almond paste, also grated with a the pastry blender and then use your hands, blending well. Be careful when toasting the almonds, they burn quickly and should just have begun to turn a caramel color when removed from  the toaster oven. Mix well and put the mixture aside in the refrigerator.Don't omit the extracts and use sea salt and real extracts for the best flavor. It's the combination of all the little things in this pear dish that gives it the final aroma and flavor- and that means almond and vanilla extract, eau de poire, lemon juice and zest,sea salt, ginger and almond paste.  

Mix the apricot conserve, vanilla, salt, sugar and lemon rind. Set aside.

Peel, core and slice the pears then turn into a bowl into which the lemon juice and eau de poire have been mixed. Add lemon juice to the pears a little at a time to keep them from browning as you peel and slice. Mix the pears well with the lemon juice mixture. Now mix in the apricot mixture until well combined. The pears are now ready to turn into the baking dish. 

Remove the crumble topping from the refrigerator and spread over evenly. It's an extra touch , but I like to sprinkle Penzeys Spices Vanilla Sugar over the top, for it's 'finish'. Bake for 30 minutes, then check it.  The almonds can burn  very quickly and ruin the desert, so I don't leave the kitchen while this is baking. It may take another 10 minutes or so to complete, but watch carefully. I actually baked mine for 40 minutes, but had to remove a few black spots from the top. If this happens before the fruit mixture can be seen bubbling below the crumble surface, I would cover with foil to protect it.

The desert should cool for at least 15 minutes. It is like a little slice of heaven warm, with ice cream, or a non dairy vanilla product.  If a butter substitute is used, it is vegan and just as delicious.

My own thought is this: if we can create something without animal products that is essentially identical to something that has them, I use the non animal products. This time I had butter, so I used it- always Organic Valley unsalted- but for crisps and crumbles, a good quality non dairy substitute, available at Whole Foods,works just as well.

Enjoy this, lovers of autumn fruits and flavors!