SO. Back at university already. It feels like the holidays passed in an absolute blink of the eye, and the only evidence I have that they even occurred is the photos on my laptop. Life in general seems to pass at an enormous rate these days – or maybe I have only just started noticing it. It seems like yesterday that I started medical school, only last week that I was sitting in English class at Takapuna Grammar, last month that I was swimming competitively and getting up for training every morning. It is worse with holidays: you look forward to them for so long, dream about them, countdown to the day you leave… and then BAM – you’re back and all that build up is over. I guess it is a lesson – to enjoy each day as much as possible, talk to people, new people, go and try something you haven’t done before, make more memories – live for the little things, as utterly cliché as that sounds, because if you are constantly looking forward, looking ahead to the next holiday, next milestone – well, you will be there before you know it and will have missed out on life inbetween. I need to remind myself of that a little more, I think.
But – I digress. This Pear, Chocolate and Walnut Crumble is what we are really here for. Please, please make it. Buttery, tender caramelised pears are topped with a crunchy-edged oaty crumble, full of gooey melting chocolate chunks and toasted walnut pieces. All you need is a scoop of vanilla ice cream, melting down through the cracks in the crumble and melding with the hot pear syrup and you have yourself a bowl of heaven. I wish I could make it tonight – this windy, bitingly-cold Melbourne evening practically makes a hot pudding compulsory. (If you are one of those lucky people in the Northern hemisphere enjoying all of those fresh berries and stonefruit, either make it anyway or save the recipe for when the snow arrives!).
I have been lucky enough to have a huge bag of fresh walnuts this winter – friends of ours in Queenstown have a walnut tree nearby and gifted us the excess. Cracking them was a trying process. We started off with a a big pair of pliers and a rubber hammer from Dad’s tools, but graduated to a $7 nut cracker that Mum randomly saw in a supermarket when we were in Turkey. I still seem to end up with far more crushed walnuts than whole ones (any tips here??), but it is absolutely worth it for the quality of the fresh walnuts produced – it makes you realise just how stale the ones in the supermarket must be! I’m not saying you must go out and procure some fresh walnuts still in-shell for this recipe, but if you do have some or access to them, use them.
Adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe, this has been a favourite winter crumble recipe in our house for years. And do not be put off by the addition of chocolate to the crumble – pear and chocolate are a perfect, classic flavour pairing. This rendition makes enough for 6-8 people (depending on appetite!), but can easily be halved to serve 3. Don’t skip the caramelising of the pears – in some crumble recipes fruit is just put straight in, no cooking involved, but this is not one of them. You would be likely to end up with dry, crunchy pieces of pear rather than the tender, sweet chunks that will have everyone asking for the recipe.
Another quick note that I have also included in the recipe: I have found that cast iron pans or oven proof frypans are ideal for cooking this crumble in as the pears continue to caramelise more than in a ceramic baking dish as they hold far more heat, but if you don’t have that option then a ceramic baking dish will still produce a delicious dessert. It will also cook a little more quickly in a metal pan for the same reason.
- 1.4 kg pears
- 1 lemon, halved
- 50g butter
- 100g caster sugar
- 110g butter
- 110g plain flour
- 100g brown sugar (or demerara sugar, if you have it)
- 7 tbsp whole oats
- 1 tbsp milk
- 80g walnuts, roughly chopped
- 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180°. Peel and core the pears, cutting them into quarters or sixths if they are large. As you go, rub them with the lemon halves to prevent browning.
- Melt the butter in a large frypan over moderate to high heat. Add the caster sugar and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the pears, coating them with the sugar and butter. Hopefully they all fit in one layer for you, otherwise turn them regularly. Let the pears cook and soften - as you do this, the sugar will start to caramelise.
- Once the pears are just tender (a good way to test this is when you can spear them through with the tines of a fork and meet only a little resistance) and the sugar is caramelised, normally around 10-15 minutes, tip the pears and the leftover juices into a baking dish (about 1.5-2L) (NOTE: I have found that cast iron pans or oven proof frypans are ideal for cooking this crumble in as the pears continue to caramelise more than in a ceramic baking dish, but if you don’t have that option then a ceramic baking dish will still produce a delicious crumble!)
- To make the crumble, rub the butter into the flour with your fingers or use a food processor, pulsing the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the brown sugar and oats. Add the tablespoon of milk and shake until it forms gravel size lumps (you may need 2 tablespoons, it really depends on the softness of your butter etc). Stir through the chocolate and walnuts.
- Tip the crumble mixture over the pears in a roughly even layer. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned and crunchy on top. Baking times will vary slightly depending on what type of pan you use - a cast iron pan will cook much more quickly than a ceramic dish as it holds the heat better.
- Dust with icing sugar and serve hot with ice cream