A Profusion of Pears and Spices

Autumn pears star in these cheesecake-like bars.

That’s just what you’ll find in these creamy-dreamy “Pear Cream Cheese Bars with Macadamia Nut Crust.”

They’re potent with ground ginger, cloves, cinnamon and coriander — a whole teaspoon of each. Whoa!

The fact that they’re so spice-heavy shouldn’t come as a surprise — not when the recipe comes from a cookbook with the name, “The Spice Kitchen, Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices” (Andrews McMeel) by Sara Engram and Katie Luber with Kimberly Toque. Engram and Luber have their own line of spices. And Toque was an assistant test kitchen chef at Lawry’s.

My friends who sampled the bars found the amount of spice overwhelming. I didn’t mind the pronounced flavor, except that it did make it very hard to actually taste the pears in these treats.

Next time, I think I would cut the amount of spice in half, which is how I’ve adapted the recipe below. Feel free to cut the spice amounts even more if you prefer.

The bars have a great interplay of textures — a crisp, nutty cookie foundation, then an almost cheesecake-like middle, followed by slices of fresh pears, and a quite sweet, thick layer of crunchy streusel on the very top. The flavor is reminiscent of a heady pear spice cake in a whole different guise.

After baking, the bars are refrigerated for at least three hours to firm up. Although you might be tempted to eat them out of hand, they’re a little messy that way, so don’t by shy about bringing out the plates and forks.

Pear Cream Cheese Bars with Macadamia Nut Crust

(makes 12 bars)

For crust:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped

For filling:

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 pears, peeled, cored

For streusel topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-inch square or round baking pan. To make crust, cream butter and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour, ginger and cloves. Stir in macadamia nuts. Press crust mixture into bottom of the pan and bake for 15 minutes.

Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees. To make filling, beat together cream cheese and sugar in a large mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and vanilla. Slowly add egg mixture to cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth and creamy. Spread cream cheese mixture over crust. Arrange pears on top of cream cheese mixture.

To make streusel topping, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and coriander in a small bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until butter is evenly distributed in the flour mixture and the mixture is crumbly. Stir in macadamia nuts. Evenly sprinkle streusel topping over the pears. Bake the bars for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow bars to cool and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before cutting and serving.

Adapted from a recipe published in “The Spice Kitchen, Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices”

More: The favorite pear of Chez Panisse

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