What every fruit crisp needs is more crisp. Also pears. Apples are nice, but pears are pleasure. When you bite into a perfectly ripe one, you work your jaws just enough to fully enjoy the reward of fruit fat with honeyed juices.
But ripe pears are elusive. They’re rarely sold in that state and, if they are, they bruise easily. If you buy hard ones and wait patiently for them to ripen, they will. All at the same time. To celebrate the immediate joy of sweet, tender pears, I created a crisp that’s ready to serve in a little over an hour. It’s perfect for surprise guests or an impatient craving for a warm, from-scratch dessert.
Bartlett pears start on the stovetop in bubbling buttery sugar, softening a touch before baking under a cloak of cardamom-scented oats and almonds. As the fruit and crisp topping bake together, the sugars in both caramelize around the edges of the pan and take on the gooey stretchiness of a caramel apple coating.
Since I already made this dessert to satisfy our age’s habit of getting what we want immediately, I figured it should also give us more of what everyone wants. Extra crisp mix bakes in a separate pan and gets granola-crunchy. The crumbles baked onto the pears crackle on top while softening to a comforting chew where they meet the fruit’s juices. When served with ice cream and a shower of the extra crunchies, this dessert delivers as much — maybe even more — pleasure as a ripe pear.
Caramel Pear Crisp
1 ¼ hours. Serves 8 to 12.
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 firm Bartlett pears (2 ½ pounds), peeled, halved and cored
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
1. Make the crisp: Mix the oats, almonds, sugar, cardamom and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and smash flat with your fingers, rubbing the pieces into the dry ingredients so that the mixture resembles coarse meal with pebbly clumps. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the pears: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the sugar, butter, lemon juice, cardamom and salt in an 11- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to evenly melt the butter and sugar. Arrange the pears artfully in a single layer and cook, flipping once, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While cooking, the pan liquid should be dark golden brown. If it’s lighter, turn up the heat; if darker, reduce the heat.
3. Scatter one-third of the crisp mixture evenly over the pears to coat. Scatter the remaining on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Put both the skillet and baking sheet in the oven.
4. Bake the crisp bits, stirring once, until dark golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Continue baking the pears until the top is golden brown, the pears tender and the edges caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the pear crisp to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream and more of the crunchy bits scattered on top.
Make ahead: The crisp mixture can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days before use.