One of my favorite authors, Marya Hornbacher, wrote a novel called “The Center of Winter”. It is a very melancholy story about a family during a Minnesota winter surviving both the harshness of a recent loss as well as the season itself. I read the book years ago when it first came out, and although I don’t remember many of the story’s details, “The Center of Winter” becomes a descriptive of sorts (for me) for how it feels around here this time of year. Now, I realize that Boston is not Minnesota, and it could certainly be worse (everything is relative, of course) but the northeast winter is about all the cold I can handle at length, and I really need to remember to take my vitamin D or else I might just end up in a Hornbacher novel myself.
Let’s make a pie
In case you are new to my blog, I will tell you that after the month of October (and sometimes way before then) when I see a big beautiful display of fruit at my local market I immediate begin to think of ways that I might turn it into a cake, pie, turnover, muffin, quickbread, cobbler, jam, tart or other fruit laced treat. When I saw these pears, so quaintly arranged in little wooden baskets, I had no idea what I was going to do with four or so pounds of them, but I was pretty sure I would figure it out.
As it turns out pears become honey-sweet and tender when baked– perfect for pie. This recipe is adapted from the recent Gourmet Today cookbook, Edited by Ruth Reichl (can’t actually say her name without sighing in awe and admiration). It has a lattice top and few additional ingredients. Use firm-ripe pears so that they will keep their shape, more or less, while baking.
Pear Pie with Lattice Crust
for the crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (I recommend a combination of the two)
12 Tbs unsalted butter or vegan margarine/sticks, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (Earth Balance makes a great non-hydrogenated shortening)
1/2 tsp salt
5-7 Tbs ice water
Chill all ingredients very well before assembling dough.
Blend flour, salt butter and shortening together using a pastry blender, two knives, or a food processor (careful, you only need to pulse it a few times, or else you will over blend) until you have pea-sized butter lumps. Drizzle 5 Tbs of water over the mixture and gently stir or pulse until incorporated. Gently squeeze a small handful of dough and see if it holds together. If it does not add a little more water at a time. Transfer the dough to a work surface and form it into 2 discs. Tightly wrap each dough-disc in plastic, and refrigerate for one hour, or up to two days.
for the filling:
3 Tbs flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
1/3-2/3 cup sugar (I used 1/3 and found it plenty sweet, but the pears I used were perfectly ripe and very sweet)
2 1/2 pounds firm-ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled, cored and cut into 6-8 wedges each
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs milk/soy milk (optional)
1 Tbs sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Put a rack in the middle of the oven and out a large baking and preheat to 425 F
Whisk together flour, nutmeg, salt, and 2/3 cup sugar. Gently toss with pears and lemon juice.
Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round, then fit into a 9 1/2-inch glass or metal pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Chill shell while rolling out dough for top crust. Roll out remaining piece of dough on lightly floured surface with lightly floured rolling pin into a roughly 16- by 11-inch rectangle. Cut crosswise into 12 (1-inch-wide) strips with a pastry wheel or a sharp knife (I made mine in a zig-zag shape). Spoon filling into shell. Weave a lattice pattern over pie with pastry strips (I just do this any old way that works- just cut the strips and have fun playing). Trim edges of all strips close to edge of pie plate. Fold bottom crust up over edges of lattice and crimp edge. If the dough has become soft while you worked, then refrigerate the pie for 15 or 20 minutes before baking.
Brush lattice (but not edge) with milk/soy milk and sprinkle lattice with remaining tablespoon sugar if desired.
Bake pie on a baking sheet 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375°F and cover edge of pie with a pie shield or foil. Continue to bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes more. Cool pie on a rack to warm or room temperature, at least 2 hours.