On our anniversary last year, Henry and I went to al di la, an absolute treasure of a restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn…with my parents. They were visiting and wanted to take us out to celebrate, and who were we to turn down a (very) nice free meal? At the end of a dinner that I’m still thinking about almost a year later, we decided to split a dessert. This is a big deal. You see, Henry’s not much for sweets. I make dozens of cookies every week (not to mention all the cakes and pies and cinnamon rolls), and he politely turns down almost all of them. He digs gingersnaps and chocolate cake without frosting, but that’s pretty much it. So when he wanted to split a dessert at this restaurant, I leapt at the opportunity. Seeing as he is pickier about sweets than I am (I just had a cookie and called it breakfast), I let him choose. And he went for the one thing on the menu that didn’t look wonderful to me: an almond cake with pears and bittersweet chocolate. You see, for me, fruit and chocolate don’t really go together. I mean, if you give me a piece of chocolate cake with raspberry filling, I’m not going to turn it down. (As a rule, I don’t turn cake down.) But it’s not my favorite. So when this cake showed up at the table, I expected to take two bites, say how good it was, and be finished with it. That’s where I was wrong. This cake was dense and rustic, with a good almond flavor, soft pieces of pear, and a magical layer of melted chocolate. I’m pretty sure I ate all of my half and most of Henry’s too. And here we are, two weeks away from our anniversary, and I’m still thinking about it…so I took that cake and made it pie.
This pie, you guys. This pie. It’s got soft pears in an almond filling, all suspended over a puddle of chocolate ganache. And all of that is in a cream cheese pie crust because that’s how I roll. It’s elegant and seasonal. There’s fruit, there’s chocolate–it covers all the bases. I won’t lie to you, it takes time and there are many steps, but none of them are difficult. This pie is sooo worth the effort. Don’t let the length of the recipe scare you away. You can do this. Let’s get started.
We start by poaching pears. If we put raw pears in the pie, the result could be…crunchy. And while crunchy pies can be amazing (pecan pie is my jam), fruit pies should have a softer filling. So, let’s poach. We need four firm pears, like Bosc, about seven ounces each. Leaving them whole, peel them and set them aside. Bring some water and sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice of an orange (about 1/4 cup) and throw in the two halves of your squeezed orange. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and drop in the pears. Simmer for 20 minutes, then let them cool to room temperature in the poaching liquid. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead, and then put the pears and liquid in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the pie. If you want to cut the poaching step altogether, you may use canned whole pears in juice.
Then, take one good pie crust (I like this Cream Cheese Pie Dough), roll it to a 12-inch diameter, fit it in a pie plate, and crimp the edges. Then, throw it in the fridge while you preheat the oven to 425F. This crust has to be partially blind-baked, or baked without filling, because the wet filling in this pie could give us a soggy crust otherwise. When the oven is preheated, take the pie crust out of the refrigerator and prick the bottom of the crust several times with a fork. This is called docking; it keeps the crust from puffing up by allowing trapped steam to escape. Then, line the crust with foil and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust for 17 minutes. Remove it from the oven and take out the foil and weights/beans. Bake the crust for an additional three minutes. Let the crust cool to room temperature while you prepare the ganache.
This part is easy. Chop four ounces of bittersweet chocolate and put them in a bowl. Heat 1/4 cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat. When it just barely comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Once the chocolate looks melty, stir it all together with a fork until you have a smooth, beautiful sauce. Let that cool a little bit while you make the frangipane.
Frangipane (almond filling) sounds difficult, but it really couldn’t be simpler. Put blanched almonds and a little flour in a food processor, and blitz until it becomes a fine meal. Then, pulse in sugar and salt, followed by six tablespoons of butter. Once that all comes together, put in one egg and 1/2 teaspoon of pure almond extract. It’s ready when it vaguely resembles hummus. Do not over-process, or you’ll have almond butter. Delicious, but not what we need here.
Now, to assemble. Spread your ganache in the room temperature pie crust. Let it chill in the fridge for five minutes, just to set. Then, spread half your frangipane over the ganache, and then top that with half your pears. Spread the pears with the second half of your frangipane, and then decorate the top with the second half of your pears. Brush the exposed pears with heavy cream and sprinkle them with sugar. Cover the exposed crust with a pie protector or foil; I use a 9″ hoop that I made out of foil, and it works like a charm. Place the pie in a 350F oven for 45-55 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Let it cool for at least two hours before slicing and serving with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. If you want to make it ahead, the pie will keep covered at room temperature for two days or in the refrigerator for three.
Now, look how fancy you are with your fancy pie. You can throw the word “frangipane” around at your Thanksgiving dinner and be all sophisticated and stuff. And then you can eat two slices in a very unladylike fashion and tell everyone that there are no leftovers as you shove the last piece in the back of the fridge. You’ve earned that last piece. You are the pie queen/king. You nailed it.
Want more pie? Check out this light and fluffy Pumpkin Pie, and come back next week for one more pie recipe before Thanksgiving.
Black Bottom Pear & Almond Pie
heavily adapted from Pear and Almond Tart by Deb Perelman
makes one 9″ pie
4 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 whole orange, washed
4 whole pears*, about 7 oz each, peeled
1/2 recipe Cream Cheese Pie Dough
4 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate*
1/4 cup heavy cream
Frangipane (Almond Filling)
4 ounces whole blanched almonds*
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold-ish room temperature, cut into cubes
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
heavy cream, for brushing
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Start by poaching the pears. In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Slice the orange in half. Squeeze the juice into the water, then drop both halves of the orange into the pot. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium high. Drop in the pears and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. They should be tender, but not falling apart. Let the pears cool to room temperature in the poaching liquid.*
On a floured surface, roll out the pie crust to a 12-inch diameter. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate*, and trim the edges to 1/2-inch of overhang. Crimp the edges. Place crust in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Blind bake the crust. Preheat the oven to 425F. Remove chilled crust from the refrigerator. Prick the bottom of the crust several times with a fork. Line the inside of the crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or 1 lb of dried beans. Bake for 17 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, and gently lift out the foil and weights/beans. Bake the crust for an additional three minutes. Let crust cool to room temperature.
Make the ganache. Chop 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and place in a small bowl. Place heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it just barely starts to boil, remove it from the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate. Once the chocolate looks soft, stir it together with a fork until you have a smooth chocolate sauce. Let cool a bit while you prepare the frangipane.
In a food processor (or very good blender), grind blanched almonds and flour until the mixture is a fine meal. Pulse in salt and granulated sugar. Pulse in butter. Pour in egg and almond extract, and process until frangipane is a homogenous paste.
Prepare the pears. Discard the poaching liquid. Slice the pears in half and core them. Then cut each half into 1/4-inch slices width-wise.
Assemble the pie. Spread an even layer of chocolate ganache onto the bottom of the pie crust. Refrigerate five minutes to set. Spread half the frangipane over the ganache. Layer half the pears on top. Then, spread the pears with the rest of the frangipane. Decorate the top of the pie with the remainder of the pears. Brush the exposed pears with heavy cream and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Cover the exposed crust with foil or a pie protector. Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes, or until the pears are light golden brown. Let the pie cool for at least two hours before slicing and serving with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar and sweetened whipped cream.
This pie keeps covered at room temperature for two days, or in the refrigerator* for three days.
- I use Bosc pears. Anjou and Bartlett are also good choices. Make sure your pears are firm.
- I use Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate.
- If you can’t find whole blanched almonds, an equal weight of slivered almonds (without skins) or almond flour will do.
- The pears may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Just let them cool to room temperature, discard the orange halves, and then refrigerate the pears in the poaching liquid until you are ready to use them.
- Use a standard pie plate, not deep dish.
- Let refrigerated pie sit at room temperature for 60-90 minutes before slicing.