This is one of my favourite desserts, and it's deceptively simple—not the kind you get wildly excited fantasizing about, but the kind that seems so perfect when you eat it. Its great beauty lies in its wonderfully complementary flavours: floral, tropical and delicate. The pears are great accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the Macadamia Nut Biscotti or Sugar Cookies with Rock Sugar Borders (see the book). Seckel pears are small, seasonally available pears that are perfect for poaching: firm, flavourful and too hard to eat raw. The beautiful Forelle pears are similar, but slightly softer and sweeter, so won't need as long to poach. Adjust the cooking time depending on the variety, size and ripeness of the fruit.
1 bottle (750 ml.) good-quality
1 cup water, preferably filtered or still spring water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 plump Tahitian vanilla bean, split lengthwise
One (1 1/2 inch) piece fresh ginger root,
peeled and sliced in 1/4-inch thick slices
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 medium-sized, ripe but firm pears,
such as Bartlett or Anjou;
or 10 to 12 small firm dessert pears,
such as Sugar, Seckel or Forelle
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, to serve
1. In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan just large enough to hold the pears with about 2 inches of headspace to spare, combine the wine, water and sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove the syrup from the heat and add the vanilla bean, ginger slices and lemon juice. Peel the pears, removing the skin as thinly as possible, leaving the stems intact. Follow the gentle curves of the pears as you peel them so they retain their beautiful shape.
2. Add the pears all at once to the pot of syrup and press a small, clean dishcloth directly onto the surface of the mixture, soaking the cloth. Place a circle of parchment paper onto the cloth; this will prevent the pears from poaching unevenly or drying out on one side. (If you find the pears are still floating, you can place a little plate or saucer onto the cloth to weigh them down. The trick is to keep the fruit under the syrup, without having it rest on the bottom of the pot! Do your best; I have found one side plate that is the perfect size and weight-heavy enough to hold the fruit under, but not so heavy that the pears are squashed against the bottom. Experiment! Somewhere in your kitchen is the ideal dish!)
3. Return the pot to the element over medium-low heat and slowly bring the syrup to a bare simmer. Watch closely: you don't want the mixture to boil too vigorously at any point, or the fruit will cook too quickly and begin to break down in the syrup. Reduce the heat slightly and keep the syrup just below the simmer. Tiny bubbles should dance up around the pears and just break the surface. Too low is better than too high a heat; the pears may take a little longer to poach, but will remain intact and tender.
4. Poach the fruit until the tip of a very sharp knife slips in and out easily. Let the pears cool in their syrup, then refrigerate until needed. If the pears are extremely soft, carefully remove them from the syrup into a shallow container and refrigerate until cool. Cool the syrup separately, then pour it over the pears and refrigerate together until needed. (The pears can be poached up to 4 days ahead of time and refrigerated, submerged in their syrup.)
5. To serve, remove the fruit from the refrigerator about 1 hour before you plan to serve them. Pare off a little slice from the bottom of each pear to create a flat plane for the fruit to stand on and place one in each of 6 shallow dessert bowls. Spoon some of the syrup over top and accompany with a scoop of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and a flavourful biscuit. Crème anglaise also makes a lovely accompaniment.
In the Sweet Kitchen
The Definitive Baker's Companion
by Regan Daley
$35 (U.S.) hardcover
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created May 2002
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