Fruit crisps have been around for years. They never seem to go out of style. Early Americans created fruit desserts with some very funny names like pandowdy or buckle. The simpler named fruit crisp is nothing more than a mixture of fruit on the bottom and a layer of any kind of sweet crumbs on top. It can be as plain as buttered and sugared bread or cookie crumbs or as creative as the streusel topping below, composed with almonds, flour, autumn spices and melted butter. I like to use pumpkin pie spice to flavor the streusel since all of my favorite holiday spices are blended into one mix. This cuts down prep time.

This crisp is full of autumn goodness with juicy apples and pears and sweet dried cranberries. I wanted to add a modern twist to this simple classic dessert so I came up with sandwiching vanilla custard between the fruit and the almond flavored topping. A layer of crème fraiche custard mixture makes a light custard layer between the fruit and the almond flavored topping that comes together in a spectacular combination of flavors and textures.

This easy-to-prepare dessert has become a mainstay on my holiday buffet dessert table and is always requested for Thanksgiving. It’s nice to serve something in addition to the classic pumpkin pie. Serve this just out of the oven or room temperature. A scoop of French vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment.

Tasty Tips:
• You can vary this recipe by using only apples or pears with the dried cranberries.
• Use dried sweet Bing or sour cherries instead of the cranberries.
• Change out the almonds for pecans.
• Omit the layer of crème fraiche custard for a lighter version.
• Advance Preparation: This may be prepared 8 hours ahead, covered and kept at room temperature before serving. Reheat in a 375F oven for 10 minutes before serving.

Apple, Pear and Dried Cranberry Custard Crisp

Serves 6-8

1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 medium pears, (Anjou), peeled, cored and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3 medium Gala apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon

Custard
2 eggs
1 cup creme fraiche
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the cranberries in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let steep for 10 minutes to plump them. Drain and reserve.

2. In a mixing bowl combine together the fruit, flour, sugar and lemon zest and mix until the fruit is well coated. Transfer to an 8 by 10 or a 9 by13-inch greased gratin pan or baking dish. Press down with a spatula to make an even layer with no gaps. Place on a baking sheet.

3. For the custard: In a medium bowl beat the eggs well. Add the crème fraiche and vanilla and whisk until blended. Sift in the flour, whisking well to make sure the custard is smooth with no lumps. Set aside.

4. In a mixing bowl combine the brown sugar, flour, almonds, salt, pumpkin pie spice, lemon zest and mix together. Add the vanilla and melted butter and mix until it becomes a soft dough.

5. Spread an even layer of the custard cream mixture over the fruit. Crumble the topping mixture with your fingers evenly over the fruit. Bake for 55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and completely cooked through. Let rest 10 minutes and then serve serve with scoops of French vanilla ice cream, if desired.

By Diane Rossen Worthington