This weekend was the annual local pie competition. Last year, if you’ll recall from my earlier post, I came in third place with my strawberry rhubarb, which is a traditional flavor for this particular time of year. It was one of four strawberry rhubarbs entered, though, so this year I decided to go for a little something different, my aunt’s pear pie with a crumb topping. Unfortunately, the competition got way more press this time around, and there were thirty-three entries! (I’ll let the idea of 33 pies sink in for a minute.) Sadly, I didn’t place this year, but it was certainly still tasty, so I thought I’d share it with the delightful readers here at Persephone.
I got the recipe from my aunt last fall and had been waiting for the right moment to test it out. (For my wedding shower, the hostess asked everyone to bring a recipe card with one of their favorites, and she put together a little book for me. It is one of my favorite things!) Anyway, she suggested any kind of your favorite pie crust, but I ended up using a super easy, super flaky, super delicious flaky cream cheese pie crust from The Pie and Pastry Bible, a book I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re the dessert baking sort. (For my practice pie, I just used some store-bought Pillsbury crust from the dairy case, and the Mister still raved about it, so really it’s the filling that makes this pie!) Without further ado, I give you…
Aunt Deb’s Pear Crumb Pie
9-inch unbaked pie crust, high and fluted
2 1/2 pounds ripe pears (about four or five, depending on the size; I used d’anjou)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mace*
2-3 tbsp flour
1 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
Prepare your dough, and stick it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. (This can be done a day in advance. Or, like I said, you can semi-homemade it up and buy the stuff from the dairy case.) Peel and core the pears. This is probably the hardest part, honestly. They don’t cooperate well like apples do, for as much as apples cooperate. After making three pear pies in the course of a couple of weeks (practice!) I found that the easiest way to do it is peel and quarter them then slice out the cored bits from the quarters. From there, you can slice the pears into thinner pieces, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
Put the pear slices into a large bowl, and sprinkle with lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and spices, and coat the pear lightly with the mixture. Lay out your pie into the dish and flute the sides all pretty. Make sure your bottom crust is relatively deep; there’s a lot of pear in this! Spoon the spiced pears into the unbaked crust.
For the topping, mix the flour and sugar and cut in cold pieces of butter until it looks like pea-sized meal. I always end up doing this part with my hands when I make crumb-topped pies. For the competition pie, I also mixed in about 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts for flavor. Sprinkle all of the topping over the pie, and cover the edges of the crust with some aluminum foil. This is especially true if you decide to go with the cream cheese crust. It’s very delicate and burns easily.
Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until the top browns up nice and the juice starts to bubble. Aunt Deb notes, “This is worth finding mace.” And look at that picture. Isn’t it worth it?
*Mace is a spice in the nutmeg family. Nutmeg, if you didn’t know, comes from the seed of evergreen trees. Nutmeg powder that you buy in the spice aisle at the grocery store is just the ground up nut from the inside. But if you’ve ever eaten a nut like an almond, you know that lacy bit that connects the nut to the shell? Well, on an evergreen seed, that’s what mace is. It’s a bit more delicate and subtle than nutmeg. I was able to find it at Wegman’s and Penzey’s spices locally, but if you’re in a more remote area, you can probably get away with using nutmeg instead. If you have to. But Aunt Deb was right; it is totally worth finding mace. It smells amazing.