Thursday, October 30, 2008
a prosh-er pear crisp
I've professed my love for fruit crisps and crumbles before, but my affection only grows stronger in the fall. Crisps are the perfect vehicle for autumnal fruits like apples, pears, and cranberries. And crisps are one of the best desserts for dinner parties when you just want to serve something delicious and unfussy. (What other desserts are ever as good as something simple, really?)
About a week ago, I found a recipe for pear crisps with vanilla brown butter. Smitten Kitchen described them prosh (am I the only one who didn't know what that means?), which piqued my interest, in addition to the brown butter. Brown butter! In a dessert! You could put brown butter on a newspaper and I would probably take a nibble. So I printed out the recipe and whipped it up for Megan's dinner, wanting something fall-ish and special. And, totally prosh, of course. Luckily this recipe delivered. The filling is delicious, but it's also the easiest and best crisp topping I've ever made.
One caveat: apologies to Gourmet magazine and SK (who really is the Queen of the Food Blogs in my book—very prosh indeed) but this recipe is misleadingly named. Yes, there's nutty brown butter and aromatic vanilla in the filling. But the flavor that really came through for me was from the handful of almonds in the crunchy topping. This is partially due to the fact that I, being cheap, substituted vanilla extract for an actual vanilla bean. (It's a recession, people.) Somehow buying a vanilla bean just seems too decadent, even for me. I obviously need to work on this issue.
Vanilla aside, the flavor is excellent, especially if you like desserts that aren't sweet-sweet. A dusting of confectioner's sugar on top was a nice finishing touch, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream will make this crisp so good your eyes will roll back in your head.
Pear crisps with vanilla brown butter
(Serves about 6 people)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour)
1 cup whole almonds with skin
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 lb firm-ripe Anjou or Bartlett pears (about 6), peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pear brandy or eau-de-vie (I used Calvados, apple brandy)
To make the topping, pulse together flour, almonds, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and pulse just until blended. Coarsely crumble in a shallow baking pan (I put it in a small bowl) and chill at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in middle. To make the filling: if using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into a small heavy saucepan, then add pod and butter and cook over medium-low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until butter is browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes. While butter browns, stir together sugars, flour, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add pears and brandy and toss to combine. Discard vanilla pod (or add extract), then toss butter with pear mixture. Spoon filling into gratin dishes (or one 9-inch baking dish) and sprinkle with topping, mounding it slightly in the center. In using ramekins, put them in a shallow baking pan, or just put the baking dish in the oven and bake 30 minutes. Rotate baking sheet and bake until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Cool to warm or room temperature before serving.