You may have let this little jewel slip by, but recently Bon Appetit published a huge dessert recipe book. It can be found at most major bookstores or on Amazon at:
I’ll go on record as saying I think this book is going to be a classic dessert book. There are so many great recipes that cover a huge range of tastes. I think it will be a go-to book for many cooks for many years to come and I expect to turn to it often.
I’ve had the photos from this recipe done for a few months now, but haven’t had the time to write it up. I originally did this as the birthday pie for my wife Nedda. We both like the taste of cardamom as it lends an exotic flavor, one that she grew up with. Of all the cooking I’ve done I can honestly say I haven’t made a lot of pies. So I expected this to be a learning experience, particularly since marzipan, the almond paste flavoring, is in the crust. Great pies always look so good, but I wasn’t sure how mine would turn out. I’m happy to say I was pleased with the crust and the flavors of this recipe.
Epicurious.com publishes Bon Appétit recipes and this one can be found online at:
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 7-ounce package marzipan or almond paste, coarsely crumbled
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 5 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 5 tablespoons (about) pear nectar
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 3 pounds firm but ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick wedges
- 2 tablespoons pear nectar
- 1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Most of these ingredients can be found at your grocery store, including cardamom. It’s just not a spice that we normally use day in and day out. But if you look close at the spice rack in your grocery store you’ll probably find it. I was unable to find pear nectar, but ended up substituting apricot nectar instead.
If there was one thing I would do differently next time it would be to make sure the pears were perfectly ripe. The ones I had were a little firm and I thought they would soften up a lot during baking, but they turned out to be on the soft side of crunchy. I’m sure it would have been more flavorful if they had been more ripe. That’s not a fault of the recipe, just a fault of my impatience to try this dessert.
In a food processer, blend the flour, marzipan, and salt together.
Next, add the butter and the shortening and blend together until it’s a course meal. Make sure the butter is chilled again after you have cubed it prior to placing in the food processer. As most any good dessert chef will tell you, cold butter is the key to making a flaky crust. If you put it in too warm or work the dough too much then it won’t be as flaky. Because the food processer blade is putting a lot of energy into the dough to get it mixed up, the dough will also start to rise in temperature. This is one reason why you want to start with chilled butter.
In a small bowl, combine the 3 tbsp of pear nectar and almond extract. Begin to add this liquid mixture to the dough and as you continue to work the dough it will begin to come together in clumps and balls. When you see this happening, stop and take off the lid and use your fingers to squeeze a small bit together. You want it to stay together and not crumble otherwise when you try to roll it out it will not stay together. You want to stop just when the dough hangs together to the pinch. If it doesn’t, then add a little more liquid and a little more processing until you’re there.
Remove the dough to a board. Divide it into two pieces and wrap each with plastic wrap. Flatten each piece into a round disk and refrigerate for at least two hours. The recipe says that you can do these steps up to a day ahead of time. I’m sure that could work well if you’re looking to offload some work from the day you cook.
Next, chop up the whole vanilla bean into 1/4″ segments. This is just breaking the bean down so it will be easier to break up with the food processer and combine with the brown sugar. Depending on how hard the vanilla bean is, this could take a minute or more in the processer.
After the vanilla bean is cut up really well, add the corn starch and ground cardamom. Process the mixture until it is very fine.
Peel, core, and chop up the pears into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces. Add them to a large bowl along with the brown sugar, cardamom, and vanilla bean mixture. Add the pear nectar for moisture and toss to coat all the pear. Set aside.
After the marzipan dough has had time to chill again and rest in the refrigerator, remove one disk from the plastic wrap on top of a floured piece of parchment paper. Begin to roll out the dough into a roughly circular shape. It might be easier if you place a second piece of parchment paper over the top as that can help keep the roller from sticking to the dough. Of course you want to coat your roller with flour to help control any sticking.
This might be a good time to preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Carefully place the rolled out dough in a 9″ pie plate and center it. If you happen to tear it while putting it down simply press a little dough on each side toward the tear and merge it back together.
Use a simple butter knife or other implement with an edge on it to trim the crust to the edge of the baking dish.
Pour the pie filling on top of the bottom crust and spread it out evenly in the dish.
Roll the next disk of dough out on parchment paper just like you did for the bottom layer. Position the top layer over the pie.
Trim the excess dough off by using a knife around the edge of the pie plate. Using your fingers, press the outer edge and two layers of dough together in a decorative shape similar to what you see below.
Beat one egg in a small bowl and brush the top of the crust, but not the edges, with the egg and sprinkle the entire top with a little layer of sugar. Between the egg wash and the sugar you will get a nice crispy top to your pie. With a small prep knife, cut several slits into the top layer. This helps let the steam from the pears escape during the baking process.
Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 400. Then cover the edge with a layer of aluminum foil to keep it from browning too much. They make special crust protection rings for this purpose and after I did this one I went out and got a crust ring because it’s a pain to fashion one on top of a pie that has already been in the oven at a high temperature. Continue baking the pie at 400 degrees for approximately 40 more minutes until the crust is golden brown. This hopefully happens at the same time that the pears get tender and if you have selected ripe pears then you don’t have to worry about them getting tender enough. Just watch the crust and pull the pie when you like what you see.
Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool for 1 1/2 hours. This will let the pie filling set up a little bit and of course you can’t bite into a 400 degree pie right away anyway.
When it’s time, whip up some of your favorite cream or a nice rich scoop of vanilla ice cream to go along and enjoy it. Let me know how it goes.