My intention, I have to admit, was not to make a pear-apple crisp. This was meant to be a tart. It was meant to be neatly sliced wedges of fruit lined up in a pretty pattern, forming concentric spiraling circles, embedded in an ever-so-slightly sweetened mascarpone base, inside the most delicate of shortcrust pastry shells.
I had imagined it — obviously — maybe a little bit too vividly. It would have been glorious.
But it was a couple of weeks ago, now, when I actually made this thing. And the weather was just too hot to support my edenic vision of apples and pears and cheese. I put together the shortcrust, made with egg yolk and cream instead of water. I shaped it, refrigerated it, and waited patiently for it to firm. And then, when I went to roll it out, it just would not go.
On the first attempt it cracked around the edges. So I folded it and did it again. The second time, I suppose, there wasn’t enough flour on the rolling pin or something. It stuck. I did it again and again, getting it progressively more wrong as the dough developed what gluten was available to it and as it warmed, warmed, warmed, making it harder and harder to work, the more frustrated I became.
Finally Sarah — definitely a voice of reason — looked pityingly at me. And in a voice she reserves for animals and small children in pain, she told me: Oh honey! It doesn’t have to be a tart.
I knew I was beat. In the fourteen years we’ve been together, Sarah has never once called me honey.
The crust was room temperature now, and starting to get that gloss that says: I’m just a step or two away from letting my butter all dribble out. And so, with a sad shake of my head, I chucked the whole thing.
And it’s a good thing I did, too. I’ve been teaching Candide these last couple of weeks, so I have the novel in my head. And as Voltare’s Pangloss would say: all that pastry anguish turns out to be no more than causal links in a chain that leads us to understand that we do, in fact, live in the best of all possible (dessert) worlds. I may have lost my precious apple-pear tart, but in the grand scheme of things, a pear-apple crisp is better.
This one, I think, turned out in fact to be one of the better crisps I’ve made. The apples gave the filling structure, while the pears offered a delicate quality, softer and more subtly flavored than if it were apples all the way down. I ran out of cinnamon (I know, right?) after making a small addition to the crumble topping, but the ginger that served as the primary flavoring for the filling complimented the pears perfectly, adding a hint of spice to their mellow sweetness.
The topping, I must say, is not mine. It is a variation on a version that appears in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. But even that turned out particularly well in this iteration. I sometimes have a tendency to let crisp topping go too long in the food processor — to turn into an unfortunate powder. Not this time, however. I limited myself to just a couple of pulses to mix all the ingredients together. And a couple of pulses was enough.
There’s a moral to this story, I have no doubt. Perhaps something about diligence, or flexibility, or a paring (pearing?) away the superfluous stuff to get at the heart of a recipe. But you know what’s better than a moral at the end of a story? A recipe for a pear-apple crisp!
And here’s how you do it.
4 Pears, sliced off their cores and chunked
3 Apples, cored and cut into chunks
2 tbsp Brown Sugar
2 tbsp Unbleached AP Flour
1 tsp Ground Ginger
1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1/2 cup Rolled Oats
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 cup Shredded Coconut
1/4 cup Chopped Pecans
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
6 tbsp Butter, chilled and cubed
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
To make the topping, add all of the dry crisp ingredients (the oats, flour, coconut, pecans, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt) to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse once or twice to combine. Then add the cubes of butter and pulse again, in five-second bursts, until the butter is evenly distributed.
Pour your fruit mixture, plus any juice that’s accumulated, into the greased roasting pan. Spoon the topping over it, distributing it evenly across. Then bake the pear-apple crisp for 40-45 minutes, until the top has browned and the filling is bubbling up.
Serve the pear-apple crisp warm or cold, with ample whipped cream.