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Pears require a delicate touch. In baked goods, their simple sweetness can seem one-dimensional, and their subtle flavor is easily overwhelmed—when loaded down with heavy spices, pears have a tendency to fall flat. It helps to choose firm, tart varieties that can stand up to some time in the oven (I'm fond of Bosc and Seckel), but even more important is to choose ingredients and techniques that work for, rather than against, the pears.
Where apples are crisp and bright, more than capable of holding their own against an array of bold spices and a lengthy cooking time, pears are buttery, mild, and tender, necessitating a different approach. In classic French cuisine, pears are often poached with vanilla beans in wine, and for good reason. The wine's fruit-forward acidity perks up the mellow pears, while fragrant vanilla beans amplify their floral aroma and the gentle cooking method keeps their delicate texture intact.
The short cooking time of a galette works in much the same way, softening the pears but not obliterating them. Of course, there's not much room for added liquids, so I reach for apple cider vinegar instead of wine. It gives the pears a boost in both fruitiness and acidity, but in a concentrated form that's ideal for a low-moisture dessert like this. Plus, unlike wine, apple cider vinegar has a flavor profile that feels inherently right for fall.
Besides the vanilla bean, I also season the pears with a touch of cardamom and Chinese five-spice powder. Those spices may not be a classic pear-ing (sorry/not sorry), but they've won me over with their ability to amplify and enhance the character of this mellow fruit.
Cardamom contains essential oils similar to those found in herbs like mint and fruits like lemon, a combination that adds a sense of freshness to the pears, which can often seem dull after baking. Meanwhile, Chinese five-spice powder adds a subtle but familiar warmth (cinnamon, cloves) and floral sweetness (fennel, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn) that creates complexity without getting all jazz-hands about it.
For thickening, I toss in a small amount of tapioca flour, which I like in fruit pies and tarts because it requires less cooking to gel—meaning the fruit won't overcook by the time the juices have thickened. Plus, the resulting gel is clear with tapioca, instead of cloudy, as it can be with cornstarch.
It's all wrapped up in my Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough, a recipe that provides some much-needed richness to the otherwise lean filling, as well as a crispy counterpoint to the tender fruit. The whole thing's baked at 400°F (200°C) until bubbling-hot and golden brown, which takes only about 35 minutes.
Because it's so thin, the galette cools quickly, so you needn't wait more than five minutes before digging in.
Served fresh from the oven, a warm pear galette is near perfect, whether served on its own or with a nip of brandy. But, if you're feeling fancy, it can be dressed up with a dollop of fruity whipped cream (cranberry, perhaps?), or even some crumbled blue cheese and a scattering of toasted pecans.
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