High Country Baking: Pear Maple Crumble (column)
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Wholesome, unpretentious and just plain good — this cooked-fruit dessert from America’s heartland leaves you feeling warm, cozy and content. It’s a perfect ending for a casual meal on a cold evening. What adds interest to this one? The use of maple syrup, rather than sugar, as a sweetener for the fruit and the hot-sugary flavor that comes from crystallized ginger. The taste is mildly sweet and a little complex, and the soft pears and crisp, crunchy topping create complementary and pleasing textures. It’s best on the day it’s made, though leftovers are pretty good a day later.
Like most desserts of this genre, the recipe is straightforward and easy to make. To assure its success, use Grade B (or dark amber) maple syrup, which is stronger and more flavorful than Grade A (the kind that’s used on pancakes). Look for pears that are firm but ripe; if they’re hard as rocks they may never soften sufficiently when baked.
It’s easiest to chop crystallized ginger with a knife or a pair of kitchen shears greased with butter or mild vegetable oil and cleaned and re-greased as needed. The ginger should be soft. If it isn’t, place it in a small dish, cover it and give it a blast of high heat in a microwave oven for 15-20 seconds. Check it; if necessary, give it another blast of heat. Once softened, use it immediately.
Make in an 8x8x2 inch baking dish or 4 one-cup-capacity ramekins
1/3 cup pure maple syrup, preferably dark or B grade
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 pounds ripe but firm Bosc or Anjou pears
1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
2 teaspoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup walnuts
1. Make the filling: Combine the maple syrup, lemon juice and flour in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine well. Peel and core the pears, cut them into 1/2 -inch cubes, and add them to the bowl along with the dried cranberries/raisins and crystallized ginger. Stir and toss until all the fruit and ginger are heavily coated with the liquid mixture. Set the filling aside for 20 minutes, tossing and stirring it several times. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Lightly butter the baking dish/ramekins. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
2. While the filling rests, make the topping: Add the flour and brown sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into 8 pieces, add them and pulse until the mixture forms small, moist clumps. Add the walnuts and pulse only until they are coarsely chopped. Remove the bowl from the processor, take out the blade, cover the bowl and chill the topping in the freezer.
3. After the 20 minute rest, spoon the filling into the prepared baking dish (or divide it equally among the ramekins). Include some, but not all, of the liquid that’s at the bottom of the bowl. Take the topping out of the freezer, squeeze bits of it together and sprinkle them over the filling, covering it completely.
4. Move the dish/ramekins to the foil-lined cookie sheet (to catch drips) and place it in the oven. Bake until the topping is crisp and golden, the pears are soft and the filling thickens and bubbles; start checking the ramekins at 25 minutes and the dish at 30 minutes, though the time required will depend on the ripeness of the pears. If the topping is done before the filling, tent a piece of foil over it (make sure air can circulate under the foil or the topping won’t remain crisp) until the baking is complete.
5. Remove the baked crumble(s) from the oven, let it/them rest for at least 15-20 minutes before serving. They can cool completely (once cool, cover lightly) and be re-heated later in the day in a 325 degree oven until warm to the touch. Serve warm, with a scoop of vanilla or caramel ice cream.
This is a variation of a recipe published in Bon Appetit Desserts.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of the high-altitude cookbooks Cookies in the Clouds and Baking Above It All (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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