Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

If you believe that fancy, complicated desserts are what bakeries were invented for, carry on, nothing to see here. However, if you love days-long baking projects which result in the most extraordinary of desserts, guaranteed to elicit oohs and ahs around the Thanksgiving table, continue reading, because, boy, oh boy, do I have a recipe for you!

Seriously, the making of this dessert, from Joanne Chang’s flour cookbook, falls into the “redonkulous” category. The book’s subtitle “Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café” is a completely accurate description. If you want to impress your in-laws, your boss or just plain love a challenge, this is it.

Rich and I baked this roasted pear and cranberry crostata last January during a blizzard. We figured we weren’t going anywhere and I had some extra pears lying around from a chutney project. It took an entire day to prepare. It’s basically the opposite of the idiot-proof Jacques Pepin apple gallete recipe that takes 15 seconds to prepare.

Hindsight is 20/20, and if I was to do it again, I would prep each piece of this dessert one step at a time over a three day period. It’s much more manageable that way. And don’t worry if you start on this project and soon realize you’re really not in the mood to take it all the way through. The pate brisée can be refrigerated for up to four days, and frozen for up to a month. I think the roasted pears, tossed with ginger, butter and sugar, makes a scrumptious dessert on its own. Or over ice cream – it’s up to you, really. And the frangipane, well, you can just spoon that right into your mouth if you like.

ROASTED PEAR AND CRANBERRY CROSTATA from Joanne Chang’s flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes one 9-inch crostata (serves 8 to 10)

Ingredients

9 Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored

1-inch knob fresh ginger, thinly sliced

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Pâte Brisée (recipe follows)

Frangipane (recipe follows)

1 cup (100 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 Tablespoons sanding sugar, pearl sugar, or granulated sugar

Directions

Position a rack in the center oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, toss together the pears, ginger, granulated sugar and butter. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the pears are soft when pierced with a knife tip and golden. Let cool completely. (The pears can be roasted for up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter and ¼ inch thick. Place the dough circle in the prepared baking sheet.

Using the back of a spoon or a small rubber spatula, spread the frangipane in the middle of the dough round in a circle about 9 inches in diameter, leaving a 3-inch border uncovered.

Place about 8 pear halves, cut-side down, in a circle in a single layer on the top of the frangipane, lining them up with the edge of the frangipane and with the stem ends pointing toward the middle. Place 1 or 2 pear halves in the center to cover the frangipane circle completely. Sprinkle ¾ cup (75 grams) of the cranberries evenly on top of the pears. Top the first layer of pears with a second layer of pears, using about 7 halves and reserving 1 pear half, arranging them in a smaller concentric circle. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup (25) grams of cranberries evenly on top of the second layer of pears.

Place the reserved pear half on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, and starting at the squat bottom end, cut four or five lengthwise slices, stopping just short of the stem end. Fan the slices, and place the pear half in the center of the second layer of pear halves. Starting at one side of the crostata, fold the 3-inch border of dough up and over the fruit, forming six to eight loose pleats around the perimeter and pressing the pleats firmly together onto the fruit. The center of the crostata will remain exposed in a 3-to 4-inch circle, showing off the fanned pear. Refrigerate the assembled crostata for at least 1 hour before baking. (At this point, the crostata can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day before baking.)

Position the rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush the pleated pastry with the beaten egg, then sprinkle evenly with the sanding sugar. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the pleats are golden brown. Make sure all of the folds are evenly browned, so there are no chewy underbaked bits of dough in the finished crostata. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The crostata can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

PÂTE BRISÉE

Makes about 10 ounces dough, enough for one 9-inch single-crust pie, 10-inch crostata, or 9-inch quiche

Ingredients

1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon/128 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 egg yolk

2 Tablespoons cold milk

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and mix on low speed for about 45 seconds, or until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and pecan-size lumps of butter are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk until blended. Add to the flour-butter mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface, until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

FRANGIPANE

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

1/3 cup (50 grams) blanched whole almonds, or ½ cup (50 grams) almond flour

¼ cup (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup (50 grams) sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

If using whole almonds, grind them in a food processor as finely as possible without turning them into paste. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or hand-held mixer or wooden spoon), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until light. Add the ground almonds or almond flour and beat on medium speed for 1 minute, or until thoroughly incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

On low speed, beat in the egg. Add the all-purpose flour, vanilla, and salt and mix until combined. You should have about 1 cup. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, then let sit for a few hours at room temperature before using. Or, freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, then thaw it in the refrigerator before using.

A Perfect Pear-ing

We had quite a busy Saturday this weekend, starting with a lovely afternoon on Cape Ann. I shared a hay bale and a microphone with some really remarkable women to discuss eating locally at the Rockport HarvestFest. While we were there, we enjoyed lots of local treats like maple-covered almonds, fresh corn chowder and homemade pumpkin whoopie pies.

Then we trucked it back to town for an evening of parties. First stop was our friends’ annual beer and cheese party. What started as a gathering of about two dozen enthusiastic beer geeks six years ago has blossomed into more than 75 people sharing their favorite pairings.

In keeping with the local spirit, we brought a 2-year aged cheddar from Shelburne Farms in Vermont. We paired it with two versions of a saison, a spicy Belgian-style farmhouse ale, by new local breweries: Mystic Brewery in Chelsea and Backlash Beer Co. in Holyoke. And although the most popular accoutrement at the party was a baby (another change over the six years), my special accompaniment was a pear chutney I churned up earlier this week. As I simmered my pears, I thought about how my attempt to prepare a locally sourced dish had ended up involving ground coriander from Asia and lemons from California. Of course, the vinegary relish is of Indian origin and is now the most popular condiment in the United Kingdom.

Me, Maggie Batista, and Jane Ward. Not pictured: Heather Atwood.

Our second party was a 30th birthday for a dear friend, and the chutney did double duty that night as a small gift for him. I had actually tagged this recipe last fall to use as little gifts for friends, but the season slipped by too fast for me. To make sure that doesn’t happen again, I have another half dozen pears resting on my dining room table, just waiting to spruce up anything from a serving of yogurt to accompanying a nice piece of fish.

Pear Chutney from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table (I know, I’ve become a little addicted to this cookbook.)

As Deborah writes, “chutneys are sweet and sours in a single jar. Firm but ripe fruits are the best to use – little Winter Nellis, Anjou, or Bartlett Pears that are a day shy of eating. Peaches and nectarines can also be used for this chutney.”

Ingredients

2 pounds firm pears

½ cup white sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup golden raisins

Zest of 1 lemon

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon minced garlic

½ cup peeled and diced or sliced fresh ginger

¾ cup finely chopped white onion

3 dried cayenne, árbol, or other slender dried hot chiles

10 whole cloves

Directions

Peel and core the pears and dice them into small pieces. Put them in a heavy saucepan with the white sugar and place over low heat. Cook until they’ve released quite a bit of juice, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir them a few times while they cook. Drain off the juice and set the pears and juice aside separately.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the reserved juice, lower the heat, and simmer until fine bubbles dot the surface, about 40 minutes. Add the reserved pears and cook over low heat until the pears are translucent and the sauce is quite reduced and thick, about 25 minutes more. Ladle into a clean jar, cover tightly and refrigerate. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for up to two months.