Pear and Chocolate Crisp with Toasted Hazelnuts

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My interest in baking began very early.  Perhaps because my interest in food began very early.  I was one of those geeky little kids who sat in corners inhaling books.  Upon reflection, I suspect the yearning to bake was fueled by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy.  I loved that book – honestly I think it was my favorite of the series.  Only as an adult, did I fully realize the narrative revolves in large part around the food served up on an early American farm.   Butter churning and apple picking and frying donuts are all part of the story … Seriously, Almanzo (the Farmer Boy) was a kid who enjoyed a good meal:

There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo liked the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie.

I found a website this morning that lists every single meal Almanzo eats in Farmer Boy.  It’s on a blog called The Hairpin. Read it, and try not to close your laptop and go cook something Mrs. Wilder would have turned out of her kitchen.  Fried donuts or stacks of pancakes or apple pie..

When I first ventured into the kitchen at seven years-old, I wasn’t quite up to frying up donuts or making stacks of pancakes or apple pies, but I did love to make apple crisps. My obsession with crumbly toppings started early, and as I grew up in Michigan, apples were the go-to fruit.

I was reading Nigel Slater’s notes from the Larder the other day (it has remained in the pile next to my bed), and came across a pear crumble with chocolate.  I thought to myself – “Now this would be an interesting version of my apple crisp…” So I set off to tweak my recipe.

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Plus, I’ve been meaning to cook something in these nifty little Le Creuset cocottes.

Good word cocotte.

I fiddled with this recipe twice.  The first time, I grated a chocolate bar, but that essentially bathed the pears in a chocolate sauce.  Delicious, but a bit overwhelming.  So the next time, I chopped chocolate into chunks.  This way, some of the sauce was a bit fruity, with bursts of chocolate throughout.  I preferred the second version.  (Of course I realized chocolate chunks would work very nicely) The nifty thing about crisps is that they are very forgiving.  It’s nearly impossible to mess them up.

I served this for dinner the other night… I think Almanzo would have approved.

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On another quick note, I will be taking part in the Blogging 101 Challenge by WordPress this month… Though I’m 105 posts into this blogging adventure, I thought it would be a good idea to do a bit of reflecting on how to improve my work.

The question of the day is “Why do you blog?”  A full answer appears on my About page, but the short answer is that I wanted a place to practice and improve my writing, I wanted to have a place to capture memories of my life experiences and memories, I love food and cooking… and I wanted a place to store and share my recipes with friends and family.  I hope you enjoy the adventure with me…

Pear and Chocolate Crisp with Toasted Hazelnuts

Inspired by Nigel Slater’s Pear and Chocolate Oat Crumble from Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes

  • 5 to 6 ripe comice pears (enough to make about 6 cups of fruit)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks

For the topping:

  • 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups old-fashioned or quick oats (not instant)
  • 1/3 cup  firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the hazelnuts into a pie dish, and toast for about 10-15 minutes, until they are light brown and fragrant.  When they have cooled a bit, coarsely chop them.  I tossed them into my mini food processor and pulsed them a couple of times.

Dice the pears into 1/2 inch chunks, and toss with the lemon juice, brown sugar and chocolate chunks.  Spoon into 8 individual cocottes or ramekins.

In a standing mixer, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt.   Slice the cold butter into 1 tablespoon chunks, and add to the mixer while it is running on low speed.  When it begins to come together, toss in the hazelnuts.  Spoon the mixture on the top of the pears in each ramekin.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is a light golden brown.

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