breakfast, brunch, desserts

pear + cider crumble bars.

So we’ve all said our long goodbye (almost) to summer fruits, and have taken turns lamenting the disappearance of our nectarine, blueberry, and plummy friends. We will miss them; they never stay as long as we would like them to. We send them off with tears in our eyes, pressing our hand against the kitchen window. Goodbye, little fruits and vegetables. So long, sweet corn and tomatoes which make my home smell like a greenhouse. Fare thee well on your journey to next year, where we will see you again, glimmering and bright as always. Auf Wiedersehen, summer produce.

Because I’m done with you. It’s been chilly here and I am a fickle, fair-weather friend. Bring on the apples and pears and pumpkins and squash, farmers: I open my arms to you. Summer produce may be all vibrance and sizzle, but fall produce? It’s all subtleties. Sure, you have some sunset-hued apples in there, but for the most part, its matte-finished gourds and soft harvest goldens and greens. And that’s my kind of color scheme. 

It’s Autumnal Equinox Eve Day today. No; it’s not an official holiday, but maybe it deserves some consideration, because it mean that Fall is upon us. So, evidently, are the pears up here. Bartlett and Bosc as far as the eye can see at the market. Comice, Concorde, Seckel and Starkrimson and I’m  getting sing-songy again; make it stop. I love a fresh pear, because during most months of the year, they are hard like rocks. Pears are the peaches of the cooler season; when they’re good, they’re sooooooooo good it’s indescribable. When they’re not? Gut-wrenchingly sad, because no one wants to bite into a flavorless orb that just resembles a fruit on the outside. That’s when you poach them and make this tart, as I did last year around this time. And pears (like their peachy counterparts) are sneaky like that. They may look gorgeous, but be mealy and almost sandy on the tongue.

But not right now: Go forth and gather the pears, my friends, because hopefully in your respective necks of the woods, they’re perfectly ripe as mine are. Make things with them. Those peach and nectarine recipes we all went nutso over this summer? I bet you could make those with pears too. That nectarine upside down cake I made would be spectacular with pears, and I’ll probably be making that very soon, just to see if I’m correct in that assumption. Also, I want to eat it.

But first: I made you something. Created it all on my own, you see, and I get a little extra delighted when I can share something original with you. It’s inspired by a few things I have going on in my head right now. First, the new Baked book, Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients, dropped on September 1. Now obviously they chose this date because September 1st is one month and 11 days before my birthday, and they know I want this book, directly from their store, wrapped in parchment, and signed. It’s so great that they even calculated in standard shipping time, and also my delay-in-ordering-time, so it should arrive on or before October 12. So I’ve had the Baked guys on my mind as of late.

Secondly, I have had a fierce longing for fall fruits and the things which come from them. More specifically, I’ve been craving apple cider since early August. In fact, I will be making the Momofuku Milk Bar Apple Pie Layer Cake for my own birthday, because it just seems right. I feel compelled to do so, as if nothing else will work this year as a proper cake. The apple cider is here, so is the fruit, so I felt like it was time for a little dessert action.

Finally, I’ve been perusing my old cookbooks, Baked Explorations being one of them, and finding all new things to make. It’s fun when you don’t see some books for a while; they’re like movies you haven’t seen in years. You remember the plot mostly, but some of the details, by now, are a little grainy. Writing the library sections for all of you has given me the pleasure of re-reading some of my old favorites. I’ve been wanting to branch out more with some of my recipes and make them even more my own, and so, with one of my favorite recipes from Baked, I did just that.

Introducing…the pear cider crumble bar. It’s from-scratch pear preserves, it’s apple cider, it’s fall spices, it’s a layered bar which you will be hopelessly unable to get enough of. Why? Because all three of the layers, when eaten by themselves, are delectable. But put them together? A Symphony of Autumn. You will almost immediately crave a chill in the air as you pop these out of the oven. This was inspired by Baked’s Rosemary Apricot Squares.

And guess what: you could also pretend easily that these are breakfast. Something about topping a dessert with a brown sugar strusel makes it seem very brunch or breakfast-friendly. Like a crumb cake, it fits just as nicely with coffee or tea as it does with a big hunk of vanilla bean ice cream. And, I’m sure you could interchange fruits on this. You’re not a pear person? try apples instead.

I have no concept of what it’s like to not be a pear person.

This, although it has steps (obviously; it’s layered), is not a difficult recipe to make. If you feel pressed for time or don’t like doing everything at the same time, this lends itself well to working on it here and there over the course of a day or two. Due to other things on my own agenda, I made these this way; first the crust in the morning, then the preserves later that day. I blitzed the strusel topping together the next morning, as my oven was warming. By the time I heard the beep, I had layered my bars and they were ready to bake. And did I pretend, on that chilly, rain-soaked morning that these were decent breakfast material? You bet I did.

Inspired by and adapted from a recipe entitled “Rosemary Apricot Squares” from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

Pear + Cider Crumble Bars

for the short dough:

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the cider pear preserves:

  • 4 ripe pears (I used Bartlett, because I enjoy their flavor), peeled and cored, diced 3/4 inch
  • 1 cup apple cider (I’ve noticed they make “cinnamon apple cider” also: I used standard cider)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (light or dark, you decide)

for the crumb topping:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (again, light or dark is up to you)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Efficiency = more fun in the kitchen: if you’re doing it the leisurely way (the Shannon method, as I like to call it), I suggest getting the dough baked and over with first, because it takes the longest time, start to finish. If you want to do it all at once, may i suggest working on your pears and dough at the same time, as they work like parallel lines and never really run into each other in a worrisome way. Save blitzing your topping for whenever you can spare a minute: either right before, or at some point along the way. You can place your topping in the fridge if there is any hold time to be had.

Step time! First, we dough:

Butter an 8-inch square glass baking pan, bottom and up the sides.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar and vanilla at medium speed until fluffy and light, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add your flour in 2-3 parts, adding in your salt along with a flour addition. Turn the dough into the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer. If your dough gets sticky, add a little flour to your hands and continue to press until your dough looks even on all sides. Use a spoon to push down any flyaway dough from the sides. Place your pan in the refrigerator  for 45 minutes to an hour to chill out.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350˚F.

Bake your crust in the middle rack of your oven until it is lightly golden and evenly colored from center to sides, about 24-27 minutes.  Once it is ready, remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Huddle! if you’re doing all of this at the same time (crust/preserves/topping), leave your oven on at 350˚F.

Now, we preserve: (technically, we are not preserving anything.)

In a medium saucepan, place your pears, cinnamon, vanilla, cider, and brown sugar over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Once your mixture begins to bubble, turn your heat to low, keeping everything simmering down for about 45 minutes or so, until your mixture has reduced, your pears are soft, and there isn’t a ton of loose liquid in the pan. Watch this carefully, especially towards the end.

Using a potato masher (or something useful for mashing), mash your pears gently into the rest of the mixture in the saucepan, leaving small chunks, until it is similar in texture to chunky apple sauce. Continue to simmer a few minutes more if needed, until most of the liquid is gone and you’re left with a spreadable, non-runny pear sauce, of sorts. Set aside to cool to, ideally, near room temperature.

Finally, we crumb:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, walnuts, and salt, using a whisk to incorporate them as evenly as possible. Add the butter cubes and work with your instrument of choice (fork, spatula, hands) to cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse, wet sand. I use my hands and press the mixture together to form larger crumb balls along with smaller ones; it gives is a nicer, more crumb-cake texture which I quite enjoy.

And now, the assembly:

If you don’t already have your oven on, preheat your oven to 350˚F.

You already have your crust baked, so evenly spread your cooled preserves over the crust using a large spoon or spatula, smoothing the top as you go. Using your fingers, crumble the crumb topping over top the preserves layer, making sure to distribute your crumbs evenly and all the way out to the edges.

Bake for 20-22 minutes until the crumbs are lightly golden (especially around the edges; you’ll see it first there) but not dark brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a baking rack to cool for at least one hour.

I like to cut these in smaller squares, 2 to 3-bite deals, and if you do that, you can get anywhere from 25-36 out of these. for larger bars, you can get around 16. These will store happily in the fridge for up to 3 days, but be mindful that the crumb topping will have less of a crunch as the days go by.

Cutting trick: yes, these are amazing warm, but you know what’s more amazing? cooling them down first and warming them up a bit in the microwave later, and dousing them with ice cream. Here’s why: you get much prettier bars if you let the pear part fully cool off, just like how apple pie slices much more cleanly once it’s had some chill time. Act accordingly. If you don’t care that your crumble bars, er, crumble, go ahead and cut after cooling down on your countertop. For clean cuts, let cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then fridge it for at least 2 hours.

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  • Reply Katherine @ eggton September 21, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Fall produce is like jeans and a favorite sweater, isn’t it? Loved this.

    • Reply shannon September 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      totally; fall produce, could i don it like clothing, would absolutely be my favorite outfit. i’ve actually almost considered donning it like clothing as i write this.

      i woke up today and the house was chilly; crisp-chilly like november. i almost sang a song.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog September 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I’m completely on board with fall weather. I love the crisp air that smells clean and fresh. I love apples, squash, pears, and, most of all, pumpkins! I’m ready to celebrate all things fall, and I’m ready to run and not feel like death after. Three cheers for fall!

    I’ll take two squares with a cup of coffee, please.

    • Reply shannon September 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm

      i enjoy the sheer number of us who must be frolicking all over our respective neighborhoods about this whole fall weather thing. can you imagine if we all lived on the same street? i feel like there would be leaf-piles, pumpkin carving sessions, and general annoyance to all other non-autummnal residents.

      i’ll send two squares your way. 🙂

  • Reply Brianne September 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

    But what about the blueberries??

    Sigh. It’s getting cold up here, so my mindset should totally be more autumnal, but I’m not feeling it just yet. These beauties are great motivation to start thinking about fall fruits.

    And this is definitely breakfast food.

    • Reply shannon September 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      brianne, thanks to you, this is the first year i’m like, holding a special place in my heart for blueberries, and that’s all you. you made me love their little blue bubbly selves even more than i normally do, and that’s the one fruit i still keep buying that would be considered “summer.” and lemons, but you know how lemons are; they’re around in one form or another all year.

      you had a beautiful summer; you spent it on a farm with blueberries. you lived WITH blueberries. so i totally get the teeny, tiny resistance to fall. you’ll be ready when you’re ready. 🙂

  • Reply Willow September 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I, too, have no concept of what it is like to not be a pear person. I cannot wait for the pears to be perfect, here (still a little firm…), and you can bet I’ve got things planned with them. Just as soon as I get done eating them straight off the produce shelves!

    Also, I think I’ve said this before, but can I just mention it again… that your writing is so incredibly delightful? I laugh and smile and feel completely swept up in your words every time. Makes me feel like we’re sitting together with a cup of tea and one of these bars (if only!). 🙂

    • Reply shannon September 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm

      hi willow! you’re right: when they’re ripe, it’s almost sinful not to get bags of them to devour fresh; i love them whole as much as i do on baked goods! i’m happy to hear we share a love for them. 🙂

      thank you so much! honestly, that’s a little how i envision it when i’m writing this blog; i’ve become friends now with so many of you, that you make it easy to feel like sharing in a very conversational way. If i had my way, i’d sit down with you for tea and a bar or two every afternoon and just talk; i suppose this is my way of (sort of) doing that. 🙂 so sweet of you to say.

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina September 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    It was 95 degrees here today. I need something lemon. And these pear bars. Because it’s all fruit. And fruit is good in the summer too.

    • Reply shannon September 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      you know, my grocer is doing some major like, changeups in their grocery offerings, in a good way. there’s more stuff. including, for the first time ever, a canned “lemon filling” which one can only assume is lemon curd. up until now, i had only seen the jarred variety.

      so i was thinking: you. me. can o’lemon curd. porch. spoons.

  • Reply movita beaucoup September 23, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I loved this post. This farewell to summer, this tribute to fall. A SYMPHONY OF AUTUMN. Gorgeous.

    I would eat these bars for breakfast. And then on my coffee break at school – I’d share with my classmates, of course. I’d have to eat one upon my arrival back at the Cat Farm. And then I would also munch on one on my way to work. And I’d have one packed to eat just in case I got hungry between classes. And then I’d have to eat one with my tea before bed…

    So, that’s what? A pan a day?

    • Reply shannon September 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      i get so dramatic with autumnal weather. it’s cold here today. i feel like busting some ballet moves, which is why i need you here; because, um….i don’t know how to actually bust any ballet moves. i just need a sweet arabesque or some sort of jete.

      after some math, i’ve determined you need roughly 3 pans per day. so, easily done. i’m sure these can be made in bulk. or you could cut your classmates’ bars reeeaaaally small.

  • Reply Broma Bakery October 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    THESE LOOK AWESOME I HAVE TO TRY THEM. Bookmarking right now, get ready to see a copycat post on my blog soon….


    • Reply shannon October 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Thank you so much! I loved these; i’m a huge pear fan, and it seems as though apples and pumpkins steal the spotlight this time of year way too much. can’t wait to see the copycat!! I hope you love them.

  • Reply Carla September 18, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I love pears too! But I haven’t seen any apple cider in any groceries near me here in the Phils. Bookmarking it anyways in case I happen to see/buy one.

    • Reply shannon September 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      you know, it’s difficult b/c apple cider hasn’t hit our markets yet, and we only have it for a short time: i suspect there are tons of places who never get it at all, and it’s difficult to mock up. I’ve been meaning to try this with a diy cider (mostly apple juice plus spices) to see if it works with these. you wouldn’t get the fermentation flavor of the cider, but it make work to get the spices in there.

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