You can keep your apples—baked pears make for a great seasonal dessert

by Terry B on October 22, 2008

Pears baked with currants, walnuts and cinnamon create a simple, luscious fall dessert. Recipe below.

I don’t know what it is with me and apples. They have so much going for them. Apples are sure signs of autumn, one of my favorite seasons. They come in a dazzling array of varieties, creating beautiful, bountiful displays in the produce department. They have a signature crunch when you bite into them too. That sound even inspired a brilliant advertising tagline: “Washington apples. They’re as good as you’ve heard.” How can you not like a fruit with that much going on?

I don’t know, but I don’t. I don’t like their vaunted tartness. I don’t care for the hardness that gives them that crunch. Add them to a fruit salad and they immediately take over. And call me un-American, but apple pie is one of my least favorites.

Give me pears instead. They’re another unmistakable sign of the season, with every bit as much a distinctive flavor as apples. They’re just about as varied too. In decent produce markets, you’re likely to find Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc, Comice and even Asian pears. Where they shine for me, compared to apples, is that the balance between tartness and sweetness is skewed more to the sweet end. And their soft flesh is less combative than that of apples, often delivering a run-down-your-chin juiciness.

So as a seasonal chill sets in, sending us looking for excuses to fire up the oven, I suddenly remembered some baked pears I’d made a couple of years ago, adapting a recipe from Bon Appétit. Luscious and satisfying and tasting of fall, they’re lighter than many desserts and relatively low in fat. A perfect, clean finish to an autumn dinner.

Baked Pears with Currants and Walnuts
Serves 4

4 firm, ripe Anjou pears {see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup [packed] dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts [or pecans—see Kitchen Notes]
1/3 cup water [or more]

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Using a vegetable peeler or apple corer, core pears. I started at the base, working around the blossom end with a vegetable peeler. Then I worked around the stem at the top. When I pushed from the bottom of the pear, the core easily slid out. Don’t peel the pears, but slice a bit off the bottom so they’ll stand straight in a baking dish. I also trimmed a little off the tops to give them a clean edge. Set pears in an 8×8-inch glass baking dish.

Mix sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Stir in currants and walnuts. Fill cavities of pears with half the sugar mixture; I made a cone from a sheet of paper to help me do this step. Stir the water into the remaining sugar and pour it around the base of the pears.

Bake pears uncovered until tender, about 50 minutes, basting occasionally with pan juices. Juices will become syrupy as they cook down. If they become too thick, add water, about 1/8 cup at a time. By the time the pears were done, I had added about 1/4 cup of water. Transfer pears to individual serving plates, slice in half and spoon syrup around them. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Pick a pear. I specified Anjou pears for this recipe, but feel free to substitute. Why these worked well for me has more to do with their barrel-like shape than their flavor. It made it easy to core them without destroying the tops. Bosc pears, with their slender tops, would probably not be the best choice here.

“Toasted nuts, stat!” Any time a recipe calls for toasted nuts—walnuts, pine nuts, pecans—just throw shelled nuts into a dry nonstick skillet and toast them over a medium flame, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. For walnuts or pecans, probably 3 to 5 minutes. For pine nuts, which are smaller, less time is needed. Just be careful not to burn them. Transfer to a plate to cool. You can also throw nuts on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven. This works particularly well for thick-bodied nuts like cashews and almonds.

And rather than chopping the nuts, I prefer to break them by hand. It’s easy and you don’t send nut fragments flying around the kitchen.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Donald October 22, 2008 at 10:47 am

Yup, those are begging for some homemade ice cream!

I’m not with you on the apples though, I love apples as well as pears. And the thought of nuts and chopping is just scary!

Patricia Scarpin October 22, 2008 at 12:31 pm

I absolutely love apples, Terry – would be a very sad woman if I had to give them up – but pears are equally dear to me. Lovely dessert!

Maggie October 22, 2008 at 8:50 pm

These look lovely. We used to make baked apples in the microwave all the time growing up (it totally works) but I’ve never done pears!

Sylvia October 22, 2008 at 9:07 pm

You rock Terry, your new site looks absolutely gorgeous. I am stunned-. I love apples too. A few weeks ago I posted an apple cake recipe, that surprised me I (since my English sucks) It became a real hit ;0
Baked and poached apples are my favorite desserts in all occasions Also, the photo is beautiful as always.

Carol October 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm

I used to think of pears the way you think of apples UNTIL i found Comice pears. They’re hard to find but I encourage you to search for they are THE sweetest, loveliest pears in the world.

Now if you can find Pacific Rose apples (also a spotty item, perhaps they’re not a great shipping apple) you may change how you think about apples.

diva October 22, 2008 at 10:32 pm

mmm..pears are good for the throat and since i’ve got a cold and a sore throat, i’ve been trying to eat more pears. this might just be the right pudding for me! and what a splendidly fall dish as well ;)

redmenace October 22, 2008 at 11:44 pm

I love this idea. How delicious and healthy!

Terry B October 23, 2008 at 1:51 am

Thanks, Donald! In revisiting this recipe, I did see some that called for ice cream on the side. If I did that, I’d go with vanilla and only serve half a pear with it.

Patricia—I am coming around a bit; I sometimes cook with apples now. But picking up an apple and biting into it? Not so much.

Maggie—You know, Mark Bittman wrote about cooking vegetables in the microwave, something I need to explore one of these days. So I’ll bet the pears would be great nuked.

Sylvia—Thanks, my friend! And first, I applaud you writing in English—I couldn’t begin to do the same in Portuguese. And second, the popularity of your apple cake just shows how food transcends language.

Carol—I actually started to use Comice pears for this dish, but the ones available to me were a little past it. You have me curious about the Pacific Rose apples now, if for no other reason than the wonderful name.

diva—Thanks! And take care of that sore throat.

Thanks for stopping by, redmenace! My quick look at your lovely blog [and the great photos by your beau] tells me I’ll be back.

Christina October 23, 2008 at 3:49 am

Man, sometimes I think you’re hanging around in my head: last night’s dessert was not apple pie, but PEAR pie. It was good stuff. In fact, it was tonight’s dessert too.

This looks beautiful, a simple celebration of the goodness of pears.

Toni October 23, 2008 at 4:35 am

Well, like some of the others here, I don’t agree with you about apples. In fact, I just bought 4 Rome apples for baking. But I’ve never considered baking pears. Poaching? Yes. Definitely. But baking? Never thought of it. So thanks once again for stimulating my culinary imagination!

Carolyn October 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm

I’ve already commented on how much I like to stick an apple in my pot of chili (to cut the tomato acid). But now I’m thinking “hmmm … pear chili!” Beautiful offering this week.

Terry B October 23, 2008 at 6:44 pm

Christina—Ha! Somehow I feel I should make a joke about it being dark and scary there inside your head, but I can tell that that’s just so not the case.

You know, Toni, I sometimes feel I should just try to get over myself about apples. But there are already so many other self-improvement projects I need to tackle first.

Yeah, I remembered about you adding an apple to chili, Carolyn. Still haven’t tried it, but I should. And even though we cook chili regularly, it’s now totally chili season.

deana October 23, 2008 at 7:32 pm

i just found your website. what a joy. beautifully written and photographed. and on topic, pears are great this year at union square.
made a version of Tarte aux poires bourdaloue (Pear Tart with Custard)
last week with almonds in the crust and a decadent custard with a touch of cardamom…
thanks again for your great blog.

Mike October 23, 2008 at 9:10 pm

I love pears and I love the presentation! I wish I could always take such a good shot. These look delicious

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) October 24, 2008 at 9:04 pm

I love baked apples and baked pears. Sprinkled with a little bit of cinnamon, basted in their own juices…. nothing beats that for a Fall dessert. Your presentation is lovely.

Terry B October 26, 2008 at 2:59 am

Thanks so much, deana! I hope you come back for more.

Thanks, Mike! I have to say that even though I profess a disdain for apples, your recent Caramelized Apple and Cinnamon Cream Tart is making me rethink that position.

Lydia—You should try some walnuts or pecans next time. Nuts really give this dessert a richness the fruit alone doesn’t have.

Molly October 27, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Hey Terry, these look fabulous! I think I may have to make them tonight…

Lisa October 28, 2008 at 7:51 pm

This looks terrific and I think Donald was on to something with the ice cream. I’d be lost without my Honey Crisp apples in the fall, but pears are definitely a favorite. I will try this one for sure!

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