Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pear Pie with Almond Cake Topping

My mother was the one that taught me how to take a dreaded task, and transform it into a process you can enjoy. I can distictly remember the lesson.

It was several years ago. Sadly enough, it was decades ago. (Oh, friends, how can the time pass so quickly?) I was a freshman at college, and needed to submit a Financial Aid Form, by a date certain, in order to receive financial aid during my second year. The deadline was days away, but the form was far from being done. I needed my mother's tax information. And calculators. And paperwork. And all sorts of other things that were far, far too practical for my collegiate state of mind, not to mention beyond the realms of my family's state of organization. It all just seemed so thoroughly impossible.

I was about to give up hope and accept the fact that my family could not meet deadlines, and that I would be unable to get the financial aid package I needed to return for a sophomore year, when my mother hit upon the perfect solution: she took me out to dinner. Not just to any dinner. But to a dress-up dinner. We got all dressed up, packed up all the papers and calculators we would need, and went out to a fancy restaurant for a fancy dinner. And whilst supping, and laughing, and genuinely enjoying the moment, we finally managed to complete this dreaded task. Miraculously, we filled out that Financial Aid Form. Gratefully, we had enjoyed the process. We actually had fun accomplishing a dreaded task. It really was quite an impressive solution that my mother found.

And that is why it was hardly surprising that I turned to that same strategy to assist me in preparing and filing my taxes.

Well, to be honest, it was a similar strategy. We don't really have a fancy restaurant up here, and I don't really have any fancy clothes left. And, well, it's cold out there (it being a mere 27 below zero). I had little inclination to "treat" myself by going out into it. So, rather than go out for dinner to do our taxes, we stayed home, baked a Pear Pie with Almond Cake Topping, and worked on our taxes. Aside from this little technicality, it was the same idea: enjoying the process, rather than dreading the task!

All in all, it made for a fine weekend with a delicious pie. Indeed, what a fine and productive pie it was. It even inspired us to work on the guest list.

Pear Pie with Almond Cake Topping
(adapted from Pie, by Ken Haedrich)

I really can't praise this pie enough. It's delicious. And unique. But I will confess that the title of the recipe, and the ingredients, didn't inspire me much. I made it because I had the ingredients on hand. It was definitely a fortuitious circumstance. Sometimes the Fates can be kind that way. Perhaps others have better vision than me, but I don't believe that the title or the recipe properly indicate just how good this pie really is! I suppose the best way to describe it is "half pie, and half almond cake," but then I find myself guilty of the same complaint. I think this pie deserves more celebration than such a boring description. Trust me. It's a keeper - an example of decadence and humble magnitude. J., a man of little hyperbole, says it could just be his favorite pie so far. Trust him.

1 single crust, flaky pie crust (unbaked)

5-1/2 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced firm pears
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Big pinch of cardamom

1 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. Roll out the pastry dough, and invert it into a deep-dish pie pan. Sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge, and freeze for 15 minutes.

2. Combine the pears, 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Set aside for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, and cardamom in a small bowl, and then stir this mixture into the pears. Scrape the filling into the chipped pie shell, and bake on teh center rack for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375(F), and bake for 10 minutes more.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the almond cake topping. Put the almonds, sugar, flour, coconut, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Scatter the butter over the top and pulse until it is well incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. Whist the egg, vanilla and almond extra together in a small bowl, and add to the processor. Pulse again, just until the mixture starts to gather around the blade.

5. Remove the pie from the oven. Using a soup spoon, dollop the cake batter more or less evenly over the fruit. (It will settle during baking.) Return the pie to the oven, and continue to bake until the top is a rich golden brown and the batter is cooked through. (This recipe calls for 20 to 22 minutes, but with my unpredictable stove it took 30 minutes.)

6. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours.


Erin said...

I had to help a student fill out her financial aid form about a month ago. Sigh. I wish I would have thought of the fancy dinner idea (although I don't know how fancy we could have gotten in Bethel). Our financial aid event ended with me rubbing my head in extreme fatigue and the student rethinking the whole college thing. A treat would have been just what we needed.

Hope everything is going well. I'm heading to Oregon this summer and am looking forward to spending some time there. Everyone that seems to visit loves it there and I'm hoping to jump on that bandwagon.

Laurie Constantino said...

Entranced by your introduction, I was waiting to find out what fine dining restaurant had popped up in Bethel...
The pie sounds like a better alternative.