On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope that Santa determined that you were nice this year, unless you really deserved that stocking full of coal. Portland delivered the usual gray holiday, but I never really dream of a white Christmas anyway and I’m having way too much fun with my family to miss it.
I know all about the holiday feasting that went on yesterday and some people with, um, stronger willpower may use that as an excuse to avoid this pie. But the new year doesn’t start for another week so the sensible eating has to hold off as well. I promise you, this pie is worth it.
It starts with an incredibly rich, flaky crust, so much that some of us may have nibbled our way around all of the decorations. Top that with a hazelnut frangipane, as many perfectly sweet pears as you can, and a pear syrup turned almost caramel and you have a pie fit for a king. And your true love, if you can bring yourself to share.
Science tidbit: a touch of cornstarch in the crust contributes a hint of sweetness and promotes browning for a beautiful golden tree. The acidic corn starch, along with the lemon juice, reduces gluten formation for a flaky, tender crust. It’s similar to the vodka pie crust we made here.
- 1 T. corn syrup
- 2 t. lemon juice
- ¼ c. water
- 2¼ c. flour
- 1 t. salt
- 1 c. butter, cold, cut into 1 T. pieces
- PEAR FILLING:
- 2½ lb. Bartlett or Comice pears, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼" slices
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1 T. corn starch
- 1 t. salt
- HAZELNUT FRANGIPANE:
- 1 c. hazelnuts
- ¼ c. sugar
- 3 T. butter
- 1 t. salt
- 1 egg
- ¼ c. flour
- FOR ASSEMBLY:
- 2 T. milk
- Make the crust: mix the corn syrup, lemon juice, and water, and place in the fridge to chill. Stir together the flour and salt, then work in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives. When you reach pea-sizes pieces of butter, add the chilled water mixture and stir until ragged but mostly cohesive. Form into two equal disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the pear filling: combine the pears, sugar, corn starch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the pears start to soften, about 15 minutes. Drain the pears and reserve the liquid (you should have about 1 cup). Return the liquid to the saucepan and cook over low heat until it has thickened and reduced to ¾ cup. Let the pears and syrup cool to room temperature.
- Make the hazelnut frangipane: in a food processor, process the hazelnuts and sugar to a fine meal. Add the butter and salt and process until combined, then add the egg and flour and pulse until the mixture comes together.
- Assemble the pie: preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out one disk of dough to an 11-inch circle. Fold into quarters, transfer into a pie plate, gently press into the corner, and trim the edges flush with the top of the plate. Roll the other disk into a 10-inch circle for the top crust. Use a paring knife to carve a branching tree shape that extends to the edge of the circle. Press the scraps into a ball, roll to ⅛" thick, and cut into ¾" strips. Cut again at an angle to form diamonds.
- Spread the frangipane evenly on the bottom of the pie and top with the pears and syrup. Using a bench scraper, transfer as much of the top crust as possible on top of the pie. Pinch together any branches that broke and press the ends into the edge of the bottom crust. Press the diamonds into the crust around the outside of the plate, leaving the trunk of the tree clear. Brush the pie with the milk and bake until the crust is golden brown, 27-30 minutes. Let cool at least 4 hours before serving.