Four-Spice Apple, Pear, and Blackberry Crisp

If I was super on top of things, I probably would've posted this recipe right after my life-affirming appearance on the Today show last weekend. (I'm still feeling like it's the day after Christmas, a full week after it aired. Life goals, people!) Then again, if I really, truly was on top of things, this past Tuesday I would've realized that my husband was out of town and therefore it would be my duty to take the trash out the night before it was actually to be picked up from the curb, and I wouldn't have had to spring out of bed and race the cans to the end of the driveway in time to meet the approaching truck, crazy-eyed and braless for all to see at 6:15 in the morning. So what I'm saying is that I might sometimes get to go on TV with glamorous, professionally-done hair and makeup, but the vast majority of my life is basically that trash can scenario in various forms, desperately trying to get through my to-do list with crazy eyes. Although I always wear a bra in my waking hours, regardless of how crazy my eyes are, or whether or not I'm on television.

Okay! So now that we have that crucial information out of the way, let me get to my point: this terrific recipe. It's one of my favorites from Real Sweet, a naturally-sweetened wonder that has the kind of secret ingredient that makes for a "fun fact" as you're serving it and gets people talking. It's from the "Picnics and Potlucks" section of the book, a chapter that revolves around the glory of the 9x13-inch baking dish and all the Midwestern hospitality a heart and stomach can hold, with a little bit of a California spin, meaning lots of great, high-quality ingredients like whole grains, seasonal fruits, and of course, plenty of less-processed sugars and sweeteners.

With a foundation of sturdy apples and pears in the filling, this the kind of evergreen recipe you'll want in your arsenal no matter the time of year. As we revel in the season of summer fruits, swapping out the blackberries for any combination of vibrant chopped stone fruits or berries is a no-brainer right now. And then as we move into the cooler months, you can enjoy some baker's riffing by adding a variety of heirloom apples, figs, hunks of persimmon, and/or a smattering of pretty little pomegranate seeds. This can be dessert with some always-essential ice cream, or it can be a special breakfast or brunch with a hearty dollop of honey-sweetened Greek yogurt. Hooray for options!

Four-Spice Apple, Pear, and Blackberry Crisp From Real Sweet Serves 10-12

There is a category of people in this world who endlessly fascinate me: those who forgo the cookies, cakes, and ice creams in favor of “just fruit” for dessert. And they seem so satisfied! Every time, with their virtuous dessert choices, so thoroughly content! I don’t really get it. But I have to say, when I came up with this fruit crisp, bursting with exotic spice, I might have begun to take steps toward understanding that kind of lifestyle. Granted, there’s not just fruit here—there is a crisp, granola-like topping going on as well— but with a filling that’s entirely fruit-driven and sweetened only with apple juice...well, perhaps even I can eventually get down with that whole wacky fruit-for-dessert thing.

BONUS, SUPER IMPORTANT TIP: Be sure to set your oven rack in the lower third of your oven—the top will begin to burn if the crisp bakes in a higher position.

For the filling:

1 12-ounce (340 grams) can frozen unsweetened apple juice concentrate, thawed 4 cardamom pods, crushed 2 star anise 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise Pinch of fine sea salt 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon cornstarch 4 medium firm-ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks 4 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 12 ounces (340 grams) fresh blackberries

For the crisp topping:

2 large egg whites, at room temperature 6 tablespoons (41⁄2 ounces/126 grams) honey 1⁄4 cup (25⁄8 ounces/76 grams) grapeseed, vegetable, or coconut oil 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt 4 cups (14 ounces/400 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats 1⁄2 cup (13⁄4 ounces/50 grams) almond meal or finely ground almonds Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Lightly grease a 9 × 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

Make the filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the apple juice concentrate, cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, and salt. Set the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a rapid boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, cover the pan, and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the juice, discarding the spices.

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the spiced juice with the cornstarch until dissolved. Pour the rest of the juice back into the saucepan and bring it back to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and continue whisking until thickened and syrupy, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the pears and apples. Pour in the lemon juice and toss, rubbing the lemon juice into the fruit pieces. Add the blackberries to the bowl. Pour the spiced apple syrup over the fruit, and using a large flexible spatula, stir gently to combine. Scrape the fruit into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly.

Make the crisp topping: In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, honey, oil, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth. Add the oats and almond meal or ground almonds and stir until the oats are evenly moistened. Dump the topping onto the fruit and spread gently with your hands so that the crisp topping is in an even layer but not compacted. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar for extra sparkle and crunch, if you like.

Bake until the crisp is browned and the fruit is tender and bubbling, about 1 hour (tent the top of the crisp with foil if the topping starts to get too a browned). Set the crisp to cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

FruitShauna Sever