A dish of warm, cinnamon-scented pears with a nutty crumble topping makes you feel good before you even take a bite. Its homey aroma fills your kitchen as it bakes so you can't help but smile with anticipation.
The dessert delivers completely when you dig in, too, not only because it hits the spot as a comfort-food classic but also because it achieves that goal in a healthier way. Rather than being loaded with added sugar, the natural sweetness and subtle flavor of ripe pears shines through, enhanced with a little maple syrup and gently spiced with ground cinnamon and ginger.
And instead of leaning on butter, white flour and sugar for the crumble topping, this one is centered on the nutty crunch of ground almonds (or almond meal) with healthy oil and two kinds of whole grains: oats and whole-wheat flour. The recipe has just the right level of sweetness to satisfy as a dessert, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt on top, but not so much that it would be out of place for breakfast. I can tell you firsthand that, with a dollop of yogurt, it is a lovely way to start the day.
How to pick a pear
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To test a pear for ripeness, don’t press on the round belly of the fruit but rather the part around the neck. The skin there should feel somewhat soft, but not squishy. If it’s soft all over, it’s probably already close to being mushy.
Often, stores only have a big batch of underripe pears, but you can speed up their ripening by storing them next to (or in a brown paper bag with) an apple or bananas. They should release a lovely sweet smell as they are entering peak ripeness, too, but some varieties are less fragrant than others. All varieties of pears poach well.
To seed and stem a pear: Once it is cut in half, use a melon baller to scoop out the center, making sure to remove all of the seeds. Then use a sharp paring knife to make a small angled slice on each side of the core, running out from the center of the pear to the stem. This will leave a clean and even triangle-shaped channel where the stem and the core had been.
Serves 8 to 9
You'll need an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.
For the topping:
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon slivered almonds (may substitute 1/2 cup almond meal)
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking or instant)
1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (may substitute regular whole-wheat flour)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil, or other neutral-tasting oil, plus more for the baking dish
For the filling:
3 pounds ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4- inch slices
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the baking dish lightly with oil.
For the topping: Process the slivered almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl, along with the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Drizzle with the 1/4 cup of oil; stir until well incorporated.
For the filling: Combine the sliced pears, maple syrup and lemon juice in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the cornstarch, cinnamon and ginger; stir until the pears are evenly coated. Transfer to the baking dish, then crumble the topping over the pears.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until bubbling and the topping is lightly browned. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Per serving (based on 9): 250 calories, 3 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar
Poached pears with saffron broth
Don’t want to use wine? Try this version from Rebecca Katz’s “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, 2nd Edition” (Ten Speed Press, $32.49, 240 pages) calls for using pear nectar, ginger and saffron. If you can’t find pear nectar, you could sweeten the poaching liquid with sugar or honey. She suggests serving with a cashew cream, but traditional whipped cream would be a little easier for most home cooks.
4 cups pear nectar
Zest of 1 lemon, in long pieces
4 inches peeled fresh ginger, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Generous pinch of saffron (12 to 15 threads)
2 ripe but firm pears, preferably Bosc or Comice, peeled, cut in half, seeded and stemmed
Lemon juice (optional)
Freshly made cashew or whipped cream, for serving
Stir the pear nectar, lemon zest, ginger, maple syrup and saffron together in a large saucepan or 3-quart saute pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
Place the pear halves in the saucepan, flat side down. Place a piece of parchment paper over the pears and cover with a small plate to weigh the pears down as they simmer. Lower the heat and simmer until the pears are tender and a knife pierces them all the way through without resistance.
Remove the pears from the saucepan. Return the liquid to the heat, bring to a lively simmer and cook until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Taste the liquid; it may need a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to balance the flavors.
Serve the pears drizzled with the poaching liquid and topped with a dollop of cream if you like. You can garnish the pears with the solids from the broth. Lemon peel, vanilla pods, star anise pods and cloves all make beautiful garnishes.