Pears are one of the signature fruits of autumn, and a nice change of pace from summer's delicate fruits and berries.
Though there are thousands of varieties, Bartletts are the best known. They're recognized by their shapely bottoms and long necks. They arrive rock-hard at the grocery store. Most pears ripen off the tree, and Bartletts are no exception. They're picked in August and September when mature but still firm and are available through December or January, according to the USA Pears Web site, www.usapears.com. Given time, Bartletts turn from green to yellow and their flesh from crunchy and tart to creamy, supersweet and juicy -- perfect for eating out of hand. If the neck yields when pressed near the stem, it means the pear is on its way to ripening.
Firm, ripe pears are what's needed for these recipes. Softer pears will turn mealy as they cook. Pears can be used in place of apples in any recipe.
The advantage of using pears is that they let other flavors shine. That means you can really taste the touch of cardamom and apricot jam in the pie.
Pears have more fiber than apples: 5 grams to an apple's 3 grams. But a medium-size pear has more calories: 98 calories versus an apple's 81.
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ cup unsalted butter
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2½ cups coarsely chopped firm ripe pears
Non-stick baking spray
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add eggs, sour cream, butter and vanilla to flour.
Using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula. Beat on medium for 1 minute.
Gently stir in pears.
Spread batter evenly in 13-by-9-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick baking spray with flour. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
This cake is delicious -- not too sweet -- without a crumb topping. Camilla V. Saulsbury suggests a crumb topping made with ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup packed light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and 1½ cups chopped walnuts.
Using fingertips, blend ingredients until crumbly and sprinkle evenly on batter before baking.
This recipe is from "Piece of Cake! One-bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes," by Camilla V. Saulsbury (Robert Rose, $29.95).
Makes 1 pie
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
5 cups firm ripe Bartlett pears (about 6 or 7)
1/3 cup each granulated and brown sugar
¼ teaspoon each nutmeg and cardamom
2½ to 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
3 tablespoons butter
Unbaked pastry for 2-crust pie
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie plate with half the pastry. Mix pie ingredients, dot filling with butter and top with remaining crust. Vent the top of the pie. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Test for doneness by sticking a fork into the fruit and checking for tenderness.
Pears will soften but remain firm when baked into a pie. The juices in this pie will not bubble up as in a peach or cherry pie, so less tapioca will result in a juicer filling.
Makes 20 to 30 pear chips
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup water