If you know me, you know that I’m not a huge fan of making fussy desserts.
Creamy. Buttery. Rich. Yes. But fussy, not my speed. (Don’t get me wrong, I love fancy pastry, but life’s too short to make certain things at home…)
This dessert is actually the best of both worlds: It *seems* fussy, but it’s actually pretty darned easy to make. (Impress your friends without ripping your hair out? I’ll take it.)
For this dish, you skin pears, then poach them in a spiced sugar syrup until they’re spoon tender. Once they’re cool, serve them drizzled with a fragrant caramel.
Instant chic. Seriously. This dessert will totally knock the socks off your guests.
And? You can even poach the pears AND make the sauce up to two days ahead of time. Definitely the most considerate dessert I’ve made in a long time.
This recipe is slightly modified from this one, over at Epicurious. It originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of Gourmet.
About the pears
You can use any kind of pears you like for this dish. This time, I used anjou. The poaching liquid has plenty of acid in it (from fresh lemon & orange juice), which keeps the peeled pears from turning brown.
Anjou pears are the little green guys who are usually wearing at least a little blusher. Pick pears that are ripe, but firm…not squishy.
Poached Pears with Spiced Caramel
1 large juice orange, quartered
1 lemon, halved
9 whole cloves
5-6 whole star anise
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. whole fennel seed
8 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
4 firm-ripe Anjou pears
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 whole clove
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 whole cinnamon stick
Make the sugar poaching syrup
Put the water and sugar in a large pot. Be sure to use a pot large enough to accommodate the syrup AND the pears.
Squeeze in the lemon juice, then toss in the lemon halves. (Like I said, the acid in the citrus will keep the pears from turning brown.)
Toss the clove-studded oranges into the pot.
Add the star anise…
…and the black peppercorns…
…and the fennel seed…
Give it all a stir to start the sugar dissolving. Set the pot aside while you deal with the pears.
Prep the pears
While your pot is coming up to a boil, peel the pears. I almost always use a sharp little paring knife. You could totally use a peeler, too.
Next, whack off the bottom of the pear to give it a nice, flat base. Set him down on the counter to be sure he’s level, and shave off a little more if you need to. You want him to stand up nice and straight.
Leave the stem on for presentation.
Once you’ve peeled and bottomed your little friend, drop him into the pot of sugar syrup.
Poach the pears
Set the pot on the stove over high heat. Bring it up to a boil.
Once your pot reaches a boil, knock the heat down a little so that the liquid holds a good simmer.
Simmer the pears for about 15-30 minutes, or until the pears are cooked through. Your cooking time will depend on how big and firm your pears are. (The bigger/firmer they are, the longer they’ll take.)
To check for doneness, fish one of the pears out of the pot with a large spoon. Poke him with a thin, sharp knife. You want the knife to go in easily, right to the center, just like if you were boiling a potato. If it’s still firm in the middle, drop him back in the pot and simmer him a while longer.
Be sure your pears are tender to the center. You want them soft enough that they can be scooped away at with a spoon. You don’t want folks having to cut them with a fork and knife. (Plus, if they’re too firm, they’ll skitter around the plate when you go to scoop off a piece.)
When the pears are cooked through, transfer them, along with all the cooking liquid, into a large bowl.
Set the bowl on the counter to cool to room temp, then refrigerate until chilled and ready to serve.
Make the spiced caramel
You can make the caramel up to two days ahead of time, and just reheat it before serving.
If you’re making the caramel the night you’re serving it, start about 30 minutes before you want to plate the pears.
Put the brown sugar and white sugar in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed pot.
Measure out your spices and put them all in a bowl, so you’re ready when you need to dump them into the pot. Also measure out the cream. Set both aside.
Set the pot on the stove over medium heat.
When it’s mostly melted, give it a good stir with a fork.
Keep the pot on medium heat. Pour in the cream. It will bubble up dramatically, then subside.
Give the pot a quick stir with a whisk, then drop in the spices.
Whisk to incorporate. If the sugar gloms up on you, don’t fret. Keep whisking. The heat will dissolve it in a minute or two and you’ll be OK.
Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until it’s reduced by about half. (You want to wind up with about 1 cup of sauce.)
When it’s done, pour it into a small bowl or measuring cup through a seive. Discard the solids. Let the sauce cool until it’s warm.
Plate & serve the pears
When you’re all set to serve dessert, yank the bowl of pears out of the fridge. Fish out one pear with a spoon. Pat him dry with a paper towel. Set him in the middle of a plate. (You see now why that flat bottom was so important.)
Drizzle with caramel sauce.
I drizzled enough so the pear was semi covered, and there was a little pool on the plate. (Believe me, you’ll want more of the caramel sauce. It’s SO good.)
Repeat with the rest of the pears. Serve, inhale, enjoy!