Although I enjoy cooking with (and eating!) hazelnuts, they are not a food that I tend to consume in great quantities or with great frequency. If you have been keeping up with my blog this month, this statement might come as a surprise. Today's post will be the third in the past couple of weeks with a recipe that includes them. And it is the second post that contains the combination of pears, dried tart cherries and hazelnuts...a particularly fine combination of tastes and textures.
I don't remember the original inspiration for this Pear & Dried Tart Cherry Crisp with Hazelnut Browned Butter Streusel, but it has become my favorite winter fruit crisp. As I mentioned in a post last summer, I think fruit crisps are best when made with two kinds of fruit. In this crisp the tart cherries are a wonderful foil for the sweet pears. They add nice texture too. Soaking them in a little bit of brandy adds to their interest.
As nice as the pears and cherries are together, it is the topping that sets this crisp apart. Instead of my usual crisp topping made with whole (un-melted, un-clarified) butter, I brown the butter before adding it to the dry ingredients. Browning butter gives it a toasty, nutty flavor that compliments any nut you might want to pair it with. It is especially good with hazelnuts.
To brown butter, melt some butter over medium heat. Continue to cook, whisking occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown and the butter will take on a nutty aroma. Transfer the butter to a heat-proof container to stop the cooking. For a more detailed description of the process of browning butter (with a picture), check out my post from last summer on Butter Pecan Ice Cream.
Whether I am making a crisp topping with whole butter, melted butter or browned butter, I think it is always a good idea to chill the topping before you use it. I have noticed that crisps that go into the oven with warm or room temperature toppings can be a bit greasy when they are done baking. Also, when the topping has been chilled, it seems to me that the topping is a bit crispier...which is kind of the point of making a crisp....
In my Chocolate Hazelnut Cookie post, I touched briefly (in the text of the recipe) on how to peel hazelnuts. Since they have been appearing with such frequency on my blog, I thought it would be a good idea to repeat the instructions here. This time with pictures.
To peel hazelnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven until the skins begin to split and the nuts (visible through the cracked skins) are turning a golden brown—about 10 to 15 minutes.
Wrap the warm nuts in a towel (use an old towel—the hazelnut skins will stain your towel) and allow them to steam for a few minutes to encourage the skins to come off. Rub the nuts vigorously with the towel to remove as much of the skins as will easily come away.
The process of peeling hazelnuts can be a bit tedious. How tedious depends on the nuts, but I have not figured out if this has to do with the cultivar or perhaps where they were grown, or (most likely) how fresh they are. If you have found a place that sells hazelnuts that peel easily, you have found a good thing and you should stock up. They keep well in the freezer. It is worth going to the trouble to remove as much of the skin as possible since the skin tends to be bitter.
This recipe makes a very large quantity of crisp—serving 10 to 12 generously. It can obviously be halved, but my favorite size is a third of the recipe. When made in this quantity, it fits nicely into a small 1 1/4 quart gratin and makes four generous portions—perfect for a small household. Unless you have four very hungry diners, there will be just a little leftover the next morning for someone (like me) who is not above eating fruit crisp with yogurt for breakfast.
Pear & Dried Tart Cherry Crisp with Hazelnut Browned Butter Streusel
12 T. Unsalted butter, browned (see below) & cooled
1 ½ c. light or golden brown sugar
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 c. toasted and skinned hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Combine the sugar, flour, & salt in a medium-sized bowl. Drizzle the butter over and stir with a fork until the ingredients are combined and have a crumbly appearance. Stir in the hazelnuts and chill until ready to use.
¾ c. dried tart cherries, plumped if necessary and drained
1 T. Brandy, optional
1 1/2 T. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
3 3/4 lbs. ripe, but firm, pears (Bartlett, Anjou or Comice), peeled, quartered, cored & quarters cut cross-wise in 1/3-inch thick slices--you will have about 10 cups cut fruit
juice of half a small lemon (about 1 1/2 to 2 t.)
If using the brandy, toss the brandy with the cherries and let sit overnight (covered) or while you prepare the pears.
In a small bowl stir together the flour and sugar; set aside. In a large bowl, toss the pears with the lemon juice. Add the dry ingredients and stir until all of the flour-sugar mixture is moistened. Fold in the cherries (including any unabsorbed brandy, if using).
Turn the fruit mixture into a buttered 3-quart gratin or ceramic baking dish.
Spread the crumb topping over all.
Bake in a 375° oven until the topping is golden and crisp and the fruit is bubbling—about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Notes & Variations:
• To "brown" butter, melt some butter over medium heat. Continue to cook, whisking occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown and the butter will take on a nutty aroma. Transfer the butter to a heat-proof container to stop the cooking.
• A good rule of thumb for making crisps is to use twice as much fruit as you have topping. In this recipe there is about 10 cups fruit and 5 cups topping.
• Choose a wide, shallow pan for crisps. But not too wide--the topping should completely cover the fruit.
• Fruit crisps will have a crisper topping if the topping is made ahead and chilled before using.
• When making a smaller version of this crisp (2/3, 1/2 or 1/3) you may need to reduce the baking time. Begin checking at 30 minutes.