pear crisps with vanilla brown butter Recipe

pear crisps with vanilla brown butter

It has been seven days since I told you about the fennel ice cream I made last week, and indicated that I would be telling you about what I was going to pair it with (actually, I said “pear” it with, because I can never resist the opportunity to make people roll their eyes) within a day or two. And it’s been a week! My nerviness knows no bounds! How do you put up with this teasing? Will there be mutiny on the smittenkitchen bounty?

what you'll need
It’s probably not going to help when I tell you the following:

Brown Butter

peel the pearscore, chop the pearsvanilla brown butterpartially cook the pearsbrown butter crisp toppingpear crisps with vanilla brown butter

It’s also not going to help when I stop right here. Because what else is there to say? What words can I add to a dessert that could possible make it more appealing than Vanilla Brown Butter Pear Crisp? Nothing, nada. If you are swooning right now, you’d be correct. If you’re not, well, you should be. Or you would be, if you had tried it. Or leftover in the days that followed, warmed up in the microwave with a scoop of melty fennel ice cream on top. The almond kept the crisp “crispy.” The vanilla bean and brown butter made it extra-prosh. The pears always wanted to be baked, anyway. What more could you need?

pear crisps with vanilla brown butter

One year ago: Chicken Skewers with Dukkah Crust and Balsamic Reduction, Pan-Browned Brussels Sprouts

Update: The big 2020 overhaul: I revisited this recipe recently because I know there had been some concerns about the topping burning before the pears baked through and also about the sandiness of the topping. It was originally published in the October 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine from a restaurant in Kirkland, WA called Cafe Juanita. The creator of the recipe, Holly Smith, herself said that the printed recipe had errors. I tracked down her version but I still had some trouble with the recipe and ended up fully reworking it where I want it to be in hopes that it will delight everyone as much as pears with vanilla bean brown butter should.

Here are a few of the changes: I added lemon to the pears, which really keeps the filling from being too mellow. The topping had lacked brown butter (it was only in the filling) so now I make enough vanilla brown butter for both the topping and filling and use it in both places. I reduced the amount of almonds in the topping, trying to get it to clump more, but it’s still overall a looser topping — a crisp, not a crumble. The ramekin measurement was incorrect — you’ll want to use 7 6-ounce ramekins (if you use 8-ounce, as originally printed, you will only make 4 to 5 and they felt too big for one person). But here’s the biggest change: I now briefly (5 to 10 minutes, depending on how firm your pears are) saute the filling on the stove before baking it. Once it’s in the oven, you’ll only need to bake it for 15 more minutes. This not only makes it faster, but it keeps the topping from burning before the pears bake through.

The result is absolute winter magnificence. You must serve this warm (reheating if needed) to get all of the toasty brown butter, vanilla bean, lemon, pear, and almond notes and please put a little scoop of ice cream on top. It deserves nothing less. You can find the Gourmet version online if you miss the previous version I had printed here.

Pear Crisps with Vanilla Brown Butter

  • Servings: 6 to 7
  • Source: Inspired by Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, WA
  • Print

See update notes on the refresh, above. You can watch an Instagram Story demo of this recipe over here.

    Vanilla Brown Butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces or 170 grams) unsalted butter
  • Filling
  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) D’anjou or Bartlett pears (about 6 medium), peeled, cored, and diced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) pear brandy (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) all-purpose flour
  • Topping
  • 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole almonds with skin, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

Preheat oven: To 425 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven.

Make vanilla brown butter: Scrape seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean (with the back of your knife) into a large saute pan. Add the pod, and butter and cook over medium-low heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is slightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Carefully pour off 1/2 cup of this mixture into a small bowl and set it aside. Leave the remaining brown butter and vanilla bean pod in the saute pan.

Make the filling: Toss your pears with lemon juice. Add sugars and two pinches of salt to the remaining brown butter in the saute pan and cook the pears over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften and look slightly translucent [do not fully cook the pears], 5 to 6 minutes for very ripe pears and up to 8 minutes for firmer ones. Remove vanilla bean pod. Stir in brandy, if using, and flour. Transfer pear mixture to 1 1.5-quart baking dish or divide the pear mixture 6 to 7 6-ounce ramekins.

Meanwhile, make the topping: In a food processor or blender, pulse together flour, almonds, brown sugar, and salt until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the reserved vanilla brown butter nd pulse mixture until blended. Scatter mixture — you can give handfuls a squeeze-then-crumble for more of a clumpy appearance — over pears in baking dish(es).

Bake the crisps: Place baking dish(es) on a baking sheet and bake until fruit is tender (a toothpick inserted into crisp shouldn’t hit any crunchy pear) and bubbling and topping is deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes for ramekins, and 15 to 20 for single, larger baking dish. Place foil over crisp if it’s getting too dark before the pears are tender. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes, if you can bear it, before serving.

Do ahead: You can assemble these one day in advance and refrigerate them. Bring them to room temperature before baking.

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77 comments on pear crisps with vanilla brown butter

  1. AMR

    Well that’s interesting ~ I think in those terms too: “It has been seven days since Deb told me about the fennel ice cream”.

  2. Brown butter?

    Vanilla? Pear? Crisp?

    You had me at brown butter, Deb. But I haven’t even made the Cranberry Caramel Tarts yet, I’m waiting until someone gives me a tart pan, and I definitely don’t have gratin dishes. Maybe I’ll just have to improvise.

  3. MeganM

    Hi! I’ve been an admirer of your wonderful blog for a while now, but I’ve never ventured to post…
    I actually have a quick question: if I wanted to make this in one large dish (Rather than in six ramikins) do you think that the cooking time/temp would be different? Mostly, I’m worried about some of the pear being mushier than the rest…

    1. Nate

      Wow, what a great recipe. I was a little skeptical of a crumble without oats but yeah the brown butter matched so well with the pears. I would even eat just the filling as it was custardy and delicious. A scoop of vanilla ice cream could be a great addition, just saying. I’ve never made a bad or unfulfilled recipe from this blog, amazing everytime.

  4. Kathryn

    Deb, I have so many of your recipes bookmarked to try once I get home that I don’t know how I’m going to have time to attempt them all — and now I’ve jsut added another.

    By the way, I made your latkes tonight; I made the mistake of tasting one of the first ones while the others were still frying and had to consciously remind myself NOT to reach into the pan to eat the others. Successsss — ♥

  5. Deb, please stop! I have finals to study for, papers to write, and art projects hanging on my wall only half finished…and all you make me want to do is go into the kitchen, snap pictures, and heat up some brown butter. with pears. and vanilla. of course.
    also, I would be honored if you would take a look at my blog. I began it two months ago, and it’s become my little pride and joy though I’m a little shy about showing it off.

  6. Once you’ve made vanilla brown butter, take my word for it, you will never stop. When it comes to many flavors you don’t even have to brown it… verbena, rosemary, cardamon, caraway.

    But might I add– don’t throw away that vanilla bean. Rinse it off, dry it out until brittle and then pulse it in the dedicated “sweet” spice grinder with raw or regualr sugar and voila– vanilla sugar for another use.

  7. Wow! Just having a little browze through my favourite blogs before starting work this morning and nothing has made me drool as much as this. If only I could reach in, pick up that spoon and take several big bites for my breakfast. Beautiful photos, as always. I’ll have to try this. Thank you!

  8. Ack, I so wanted to make this on Sunday, but I just found out my Aunt is hosting my cousin’s birthday party that day. So it will be cake instead.

    I also wonder about making this in one large dish…

  9. How did I miss this recipe in Gourmet? Browned butter is my new best friend– it can add so much depth to any baked good, I wish I could put it in everything.

  10. That looks like heaven and the PERFECT pot luck dessert! I love pears, but have never had a pear crisp! This is definitely going in the list of recipes to try but might not really try but realllllly hope I do! :)

  11. Dancer who eats

    I got pears a few days ago! It’s on! The only thing I don’t have is pear brandy but I hope/think that shouldn’t make the biggest difference since I haven’t had the real thing already. Thank you. I have only had Apple Crisp, which I love, so I am very excited…..I am a “double the crisp” in the recipe kind of gal but I have more faith in Gourmet than most sources so I’ll stick to this recipe as closely as I can.

  12. Thank you! I now have a use for the 5lbs of almonds my friend sent me besides snacking on them. She wasn’t able to get me blanched whole almonds. Do you know that you can get carpel tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress injury from popping almonds out of their skins?

    Hubby loves pears, and you are right there is nothing more that needs to be said when given the name of the dessert. Hmm, this recipe should get me out of a lot of trouble. That and almond cookies

  13. I love including almond (or hazelnut) with my crumble topping. I usually just default to ‘apple’ but this makes me think outside of the apple box – pears with vanilla are so wonderful, and it can only be enhanced by some fabulous crumble on top.

  14. TOTALLY making this for our annual holiday dinner with family friends. Should be the perfect finish to the SIX COURSE blow-out we are planning. We’re insane.

  15. This looks like a really comfy and homey dessert. I love the way that pears and almonds work together. I used that same combination in a pear, almond and honey tart that I made a few weeks ago. Mine didn’t have that scrumptious looking crunchy topping, though…..

  16. Famisamis

    Thanks for the heads up about the volunteer opportunity. I’m not from NYC but will be there for a trip in early January. All of my plans have fallen through so aside from seeking out a few yummy places to eat and some shows to see I’ve signed up to volunteer for a couple days. Another good thing that pear crisps with vanilla brown sugar have achieved. :)

  17. Dancer who eats

    I did end up making this and it was great. I think I should’ve pulsed the almonds by themselves first to make sure they were really thin cause mine was a little too chunky. But tasted great. Some of my topping burnt just a little but I would make this over and over again. :D Eventually, I will perfect this.

  18. I was salivating the second I read this recipe, but I took a while to get around to making it… Anyway, it turned out marvelously–very rich, sweet, and gooey. However, I couldn’t help wanting a tangier taste than the pears provided. They almost seemed overly-sweet to me. I might try this recipe next time with green apples instead. If so, I’ll let you know how it turns out!

  19. heather m.

    Yes, i agree with Bethany: a tangier something seemed like it would have been a good thing in this. That being said, i made it last night, and it was seriously heavenly. i am only cooking for two, and halving the recipe seemed like too little, so i two-thirded it. Bizarre, i know. But everything worked out! i baked it in a 9×13 glass pan, which worked fine. Didn’t have pear brandy (sob!) so i added a touch of red wine instead. Also, couldn’t help but add just a bit of spice: cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg. May reduce the sugar next time and use unsalted butter- i always forget ;) Added some whipped cream on top, just because, but realized that ice cream would have been much better. All in all, this is an ace recipe; the crumb topping was absolutely perfect and who doesn’t love to use a vanilla bean? Thanks, Deb!

  20. Chelsea

    If I don’t have a food processor, do I just chop the nuts till the are very fine? or could I use/buy sliced almonds??

  21. This is very nice. Although, next time I will use somewhat less sugar. When I first tasted it, it was way too sweet for me, but then I thought I would add a bit of sour cream on top, and it really worked. It was sooo much more delicious with sour cream that I really recommend serving this with sour cream on top.
    As for grinding nuts without a food processor, I would recommend putting the nuts into some strong plastic bag, maybe covering the bag with a kitchen towel and then smashing it with a hammer (or with that thing you use for flattening meat slices that I don’t know an English name for) till you reach the desired consistency.
    Best, Agnes from Hungary

  22. I subbed in hazelnut flour for the ground almonds, but I think I’ll be grinding to get a coarser consistency next time. Pears were awesome, though! :)

  23. Lauren

    Has anyone made this in a larger pan? I want to make it for our group Thanksgiving dinner and separate dishes would not work out very well!

  24. deb

    I made it in one large pan (I realize in hindsight this may not be clear) — it was a large, deep oval dish, about equivalent in volume to a 9×13 pan. I baked it for almost an hour.

    The recipe suggests that the pears should be “firm-ripe”.

  25. both times i’ve made this, the topping starts to burn before the filling bubbles, and i end up covering it with foil to save the crisp from certain doom. why does this happen? is it just me?

  26. Melissa

    I’m late to the party, but MMMMMMMMMM this looks good! Do you think I risk disaster by making this a pear AND apple crisp? I want to try this for a dinner party I’m having tonight…

  27. Mandira

    Ok so I have cows and I make my own butter and I live in India where we don’t get butter in sticks ever…so I was wondering how many gms or oz is a stick of butter? I can’t wait to make this…my mum just gifted me an entire bag of beautiful vanilla pods from Kerala and it’s the season for pears and I just got a huge bag of them from an orchard in Simla so this is just crying out to be made in my kitchen today!

  28. Nina

    This looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it! You specify Anjou or Bartlett, but do you know if Bosc would work? That’s all I have on hand. Are they all very different from each other?

  29. Amy

    Just made this last night, the flavors were so heavenly and I am definitely making this again! The filling was perfect, but like Lana the topping started to burn before the filling had bubbled up– might have been the different sized (16 oz) ramekins I used? Well anyway, thank you so much for posting and sharing this!

  30. Catherine

    I just took this out of the oven and the house smells wonderful. It’s my first try at brown butter and I can’t wait for it to cool down so I can dig in! I used 9 medium-sized pears, and there was plenty of topping to go ’round in a 9×13 pan.

  31. giselle

    Deb. I made this on Tuesday night and everyone thought they had died and gone to delicious brown vanilla butter heaven. Just had to tell you what a great success it was. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a revolt on my hands if I don’t make it again soon! Thanks for another great recipe!

  32. Natalie

    I’ve tried many desserts from your amazing blog and they’ve all been major hits. I knew there must be more to the story when this one came out so disappointing. The pears tasted amazing but the topping was extremely dry and burnt easily. After a little research, I discovered that the original recipe printed in Gourmet was misprinted. The actual recipe calls for a full stick of butter and only 1/3 cup almonds. It can be found here:

  33. Julia

    I’m making this now, and the apartment smells heavenly. I’m wondering, though – is could I substitute something non-alcoholic for the brandy? My mom would love this recipe to bits, but alcohol in any form (even in small amounts, cooked or baked!) gives her migraines. Would more butter suffice? Or another liquid?

  34. Ilona

    Deb, did you possibly use more butter when you made this? The topping, to me, doesn’t seem quite right.. it’s a bit floury. The crisp is still delicious, but I would adjust the topping for next time.

  35. Hi,
    that looks really fantastic! I love the way you make the photos, because its an art to make such great photos of the meals!
    Lovely site with great tipps, i will recommend it!
    sweet greetings!

  36. Sonja

    Just made this as a dinnerparty dessert in little ramekins and served it with vanilla ice cream – it was heaven!
    Thanks for the great recipe, i will definitely make this again :)

  37. K

    Landed on this recipe after I stumbled upon marked-down, use-them-NOW pears – and then I didn’t use them soon enough, so I augmented what I could salvage with cherries (bought cheap, pitted, frozen), cranberries (dried, but simmered, then tinged with orange extract), and raspberries (a buck a punnet!). I think the topping does need more butter, but the overall flavor of it was comforting and rich. (I did toast the almonds before I pulverized them with the dry ingredients.) I’d never thought to add that much butter – much less browned butter – to a fruit crisp, and it’s an idea I’ll carry forward to some fruit mixes. First, though, I want to give it another shot with pears!

  38. dianebrush

    Made this a couple of days ago. It’s delicious! I had a little trouble with the crumbs though. Mine ended up looking like sand, not chunky crumbles. I did an internet search and found that the solution was to add more melted butter, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse after each addition until the crumbs get to the consistency you like. It took 3 – 4 additional tablespoons of butter for my crumbs to turn into true crumbs. I will definitely make this again.

  39. Yvonne Stender

    This turned out great. I used plums and pears that needed to be eaten. I did substitute coconut oil for the butter and added some cardamom and cinnamon to the fruit. So happy with this recipe. Thank you!

  40. Meg

    Wow! I think we need this right away! I don’t have a vanilla bean. Should I just leave it out? Or is there a way to incorporate vanilla extract?

  41. Sarah

    Any ideas about making this freezer friendly? I have pears that need using up now but won’t have an audience of more than one for a couple of weeks…

  42. AJ

    Delicious. I made it with almond meal rather than almonds for the topping. We loved it.

    Thanks for all you do! I’ve been a fan a while and made many of your recipes. So grateful for this blog.

  43. Jenn

    I made the 2020 refresh version last night. I never tried the old version, but this one was absolutely perfect. I just used ground almond meal since I have a big Costco bag to use up, and I eyeballed scaling the measurement down to account for that. My husband says it might be better than his mother’s famous apple crisp, and my kids inhaled it for breakfast.

  44. Elizabeth Kelley

    Did anyone else find this far too sweet? I love sweet things but I found this almost cloying. I admit my pears were very sweet and that might have been a partial cause. If I make again, I will decrease the sugar significantly.

  45. Olivia

    Amazing. Made this twice over the holidays because it was so damn delicious. I want to put vanilla brown butter into every single baked good now. I used a mixture of pecans and almonds the second time around and it worked out perfect. We used a jumbo muffin tin the first time – it turned out fine but wasn’t nearly as pretty. If you don’t have ramekins, the muffin pan will get the job done.

  46. I made this tonight. The pears were delicious but the topping was not crisp, it was gritty. Like eating sand. After I tasted it, I attempted to crisp it up by adding more melted butter (almost double what was called for) and baking it a bit longer, but it did not improve. The texture of the topping is not good.

  47. Jen

    This sounds amazing! If I’m making this for a nut-allergic family, I saw in one comment that you said just substitute the same amount of flour to make up for the almonds. So 1.5 cups plus 2/3 cup of flour? I wondered if you might think quick oats would work instead of the almonds? Thanks so much!