28 March 2010

Pie Season: No-Pare Pear

I don't know about you, but in my circle, we hibernate from November-February, hiding indoors from the grey and rain, ducking out for meals at our standby, close-to-home comfort-food restaurants, and, well, merely survive.

But once the hyacinths sprout, tulips poke through the damp clods of dirt, and the clocks jump forward an hour, the veil lifts. We emerge, jubilant, trading our wellies for flipflops as early as possible, recklessly forgetting our raincoats in favor of shirtsleeves. And, we start making plans -- filling our dance cards -- to finally see things other than our spouses and cats.

Spring has officially sprung around Seattle, meaning we're hightailing it into dinner-party and backyard bbq season. On Saturday, we headed jauntily up the street toting pie and cookies and rose. We sipped wine and nibbled on cheese amidst freshly-shorn grass, budding plants, and flitting mosquitoes -- so pesky in summer, but surprising in late March. Everything screaming for life.

Sockeye steamed and sizzled on the grill, herby potatoes roasted in the oven, and a scrumptious salad of greens and blood oranges -- harbingers of spring -- awaited us at the table.

The conversation never ceased (nor did the flowing wine; good thing I was walking home) and we kept nipping in to second (and third) helpings of the food -- both sure signs of a successful dinner party.

Capping any good dinner is, of course, dessert. I'd brainstormed for several days about what to make -- it had to be simple and tasty and without chocolate (Nate had given it up for Lent). A pear pie recipe courtesy of my mom perfectly fit the bill.

It's so simple to make, it's actually silly. And it's a showstopper.

Slice a few pears in half, coring but not peeling them, and arrange in an unbaked pie shell. Blend a custard and drizzle it over the top of the pears, letting it nestle and ooze around the fruit, whose plump hips teasingly poke through the voluptuous blanket.

Bake at a low heat. The recipe calls for 40-50 minutes at 325. Not brown enough for my liking, I kept adding minutes to the timer; all told, this pie stayed in closer to 55 minutes -- the last 10 on the convection setting. It still didn't look quite done, so I took a chance and turned the broiler to low, leaving the pie on the middle rack. The oven door gaped ajar and I literally squatted in front of it, not turning away an eye. We stayed like this for a few minutes, the oven and the pie and me, until the top hinted toward brown and the pears bubbled and glistened.

As it cooled, the pears settled into the pastry below, etching an echo of themselves in the now crisped top. I fretted that this looked unfinished and accidental but, to my chagrin, the guests loved it.

As we took our first bites, contented sighs emerged from around the table. The custard melded perfectly into the still-warm, soft pears; the toasty top spoke of meringue and fortune cookie. The fillings paired perfectly with the simple, crisp oil crust (another wonder in its own right that I'll have to post about soon!).

This was my best attempt at this pie yet, which I credit to the use of a finer sugar (Baker's) and those few minutes under the broiler -- just enough to add a delicate crunch to an already sultry pie.

I would show you a photo of a slice of the pie so you could see how it stacks up. But I forgot to bring my camera to the dinner party and there was literally not a bit left -- not even a speck of crust -- after dinner. My grandma always called it a sign of good luck when nary a scrap of dinner was left after a meal. I'll take this as a sign of a lovely season ahead.

No-Pare Pear Pie:

1 9" pie shell - unbaked
2-3 firm Bartlett pears (make sure they're not too ripe or they'll cook into a mush)
1 C. sugar (I recommend Baker's sugar)
1/4 C. flour
1/4 C. melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Cut pears lengthwise, coring but not peeling them, and arrange cut-side down in the pie shell. Blend custard ingredients and pour over pears. Bake on the middle rack for approx 50 minutes at 325 (If you have a convection oven, use it for the last 10 minutes). Switch off the oven and turn on the broiler to low; leave the pie on the middle rack and slightly toast the top for a few minutes. Watch it carefully.

Can be served warm or cooled. The rich custard filling doesn't really call for ice cream or whipped cream. As we discovered, it goes quite well with a rich, buttery chardonnay.


  1. Oh, this sounds delicious! And so pretty! Putting it on the short list. Thank you!

  2. Sounds like lots of fun.
    The pie sound so perfect. Maybe you'll bring some for your writing group? ;-)
    And, a Q. Why aren't the herby potatoes grilled as well?

  3. Nurit - that is a good question. I'll have to ask our hosts who oven-baked the potatoes. :) I suspect the recipe could be done on the grill, too!