Vanilla Pear Crisp with Custard Sauce

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In the summer, I eat fruit all day long. I’m a farmer’s market hoarder. I buy more peaches, berries and plums than I can carry. But in the winter, I’m hard-pressed to squeeze in four bites a week. Raw, acidic fruit does absolutely nothing for me when it’s cold outside.

Right now especially, I can’t seem to warm up.  Every other week (if we’re lucky) one of the kids brings home a bug from the play gym/library play area/preschool.  Sometimes we don’t even get a week between them. Sometimes I manage to escape without catching it, but I think I do get a touch of most viruses they get. At least I get the tired and chilly bit.

I bought a flat of pears at Costco the other day because they were at peak ripeness (which is rarely the case at a warehouse store). I knew at least I could bake with them if I couldn’t convince myself to grab them as snacks.  I love cooked pears and have sweet memories of eating them from a can at my grandma’s house when I was a kid. They take on a custardy texture and theƒ sticky syrup is the stuff dreams are made of.

I decided a crumble was what I needed to get me through the rainy, damp, chill-to-the-bone week.  I thought cinnamon would totally take over the flavour, so I went with vanilla instead.  One of my favourite simple desserts is vanilla bean-poached pears with vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce. I had them at a restaurant once and fell in love. They’re heavenly. (I should make them for you!) Vanilla complements pear deliciously.

I served the crumble with a simple custard sauce because I didn’t have ice cream, and I’m trying to use what I have rather than bringing more home constantly.  And for breakfast the next day, I rewarmed it gently in the microwave and served it with cold milk. It’s something my mom did for us with apple crisp when we were kids and it is like a warm hug. I adore it.

And if you want something similar that’s more *actual* breakfast than pie-for-breakfast, Warm Vanilla Sugar’s Maple, Apple & Pear Baked Oatmeal looks divine – a breakfast that would definitely chase away the chills.

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Vanilla Pear Crisp with Custard Sauce

A sweet pear crisp recipe with vanilla and brown sugar streusel topping. Served with warm custard sauce. Call it dessert, call it breakfast, no judgement here.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6


For filling:

  • 3 ½ lbs pears peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For topping:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup salted butter or unsalted butter + a good pinch of salt

For custard:

  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 egg yolks lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
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  • Preheat oven to 350ºF. Pile pears into an 8x8" glass baking dish and toss with the brown sugar and vanilla. In a medium bowl, combine the topping ingredients using your fingers to squeeze it all together until no dry flour remains. Bake in centre of oven until filling is bubbling at the edges, about 50 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil if topping is browning too quickly.
  • To make custard sauce, stir milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.  When bubbles start to form at the edges, slowly pour a stream of about 1/2 a cup into the beaten egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Gradually whisk the yolk mixture into remaining hot milk and return to medium-low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.  Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl set within an ice bath to cool a bit, then stir in vanilla extract. You can serve it warm or cold.
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