“Close your eyes. Let go of any tensions you’re holding on to. Breathe through the spaces. Relax.”
I am laying in yoga class, still upon a thin rubber mat and inhaling deeply after an hour that has stretched and filled me. There is total silence in the room, besides for the faint, other-worldy lilt of flute music. The entire world has come to a standstill in this room. We all breathe deep.
It starts the way it always does. With butter, flour, water. I combine it all into a dough, cutting here and kneading there, and all the while I am thinking of what will go in. Apples? Cranberries? I crave the sour pop of the little red jewels, a wintry gift to the paltry fruit stands of November, but they must be tamed. Pears?
I think about all the things I need to get done. Essays that must be written. Applications that need to be sent it. Tests and appointments that must be made up and kept. Sometimes everything is too overwhelming. Too much to do, too little time. I push it out of my mind and refocus on the silence. Right now, it is welcoming.
I have decided on pears. They are wonderful when baked: soft, but retaining their shape, and mellow enough to mesh with burstingly tart cranberries, they will be the perfect counterpoint. I mix the fruits with sugar, lemon juice and zest. And I know what these fruits are begging for: a spiced crumble lid.
I open one eye. Everyone else is completely still, completely silent. Beyond the big glass sliding doors, the branches are empty and stark against the cold night sky. A big, friendly moon highlights their tips and the leaves on the ground. Everything looks as if it’s been touched with silver. Inside it is warm, and I am happy for that. Truly, sometimes all you need is quiet and warmth, to remind you of what is important.
The scents the little spice bottles release are warm and fragrant, and I go heavy on the spices, watching as they fall, like tiny speckles, onto the butter and flour. I crumble it all together, let clumps form, and mound the mixture over the fruits,which I’ve piled into the pie crust. And now, to bake!
Slowly, we roll onto our sides and then sit up. The lights come on and they are brighter than they were before. I think of how lovely this feeling of calm is, and wish it would last all night, all week, but a second later, someone’s phone sends a little ping! into the air. The spell is broken.
The bake time seems an eternity, but finally it is done. The pie comes out, bubbling ferociously and immediately everyone crowds around, demanding a piece. I try to make them wait- “have patience, it’s setting up!”- but I give up after a few moments. I cut slices of warm, buttery, pie and the people get what they want: a tangle of cranberries and pears, a crunchy, almost gingersnap-like crumble, and quite simply, happiness.
It isn’t yoga. But it’ll do.
Yields: one 9″ pie
Filling adapted from Food & Wine
Why I love this recipe: soft, sweet pears are the perfect counterpoint to tart and juicy cranberries and when topped with a spiced crumble, hit all the right notes. The pie lasts for a day or two in the fridge, and makes a wonderful breakfast, should you have any leftovers.
For the pie crust:
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1/2 stick butter, frozen
- 1/2 stick butter, cold
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 ounces ice cold water
For the cranberry pear filling:
- 2 pounds Anjou and/or Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced
- 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the spiced crumble topping:
- 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick cold butter, cubed
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- pinch of ginger
- To make the crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Use your fingers to cut in the stick of cold butter until it is the size of peas. Then cut in the frozen butter, leaving it in bigger, visible pieces.
- Add the apple cider vinegar to the water and make a well in the center of the flour and butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix the water into the flour until just combined.
- If the dough seems dry, add more water a couple of teaspoons at a time. Press the dough together, form into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough overnight in the fridge or in the freezer for an hour, minimum.
- If you froze the dough, let it defrost on the counter until it’s defrosted but still cold. If you didn’t simply remove it from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled pie dough to a 12-inch round and fit it into a 9-inch glass pie plate.
- Trim the overhang to 1 inch, fold it under and crimp decoratively, using the thumb and forefinger. Refrigerate the pie shell until chilled and needed.
- Now, make the crumble topping: in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugars, salt and spices.
- Cut in the butter until well combined and clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large bowl, toss the pears with the cranberries, lemon juice, and vanilla. In a small bowl, combine the sugar with the cornstarch, then stir the sugar into the fruit.
- Pour the fruit into the chilled pie shell. Top with the crumble, mounding it in the center and covering all the fruit, even at the edges.
- Set the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 1 1/4 hours, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling; cover the pie loosely with foil if the top is browning too quickly. Let cool before slicing.