After reading the ever-inspiring David Liebovitz’s post on poaching pears recently I was hurrying past the fruit stall outside Holborn station when I noticed they were selling 5 Anjou pears for a pound. That, surely, is the universe telling me something so I stopped, scurried back and bought some. My poached pears recipe has been developed over a few years with my sister-in-law in mind. They are her absolute favourite dessert but, that said, most people seem to like them.
The first thing to do – well, it’s optional, but if you’re serving them at a dinner party it’s a nice thing to do – is cut a little collar around the top of each pear. Peel them with a vegetable peeler most of the way and then finish off the detail with a small sharp knife. It really only takes a few minutes and it looks so professional.
Next, because the pear is being served whole, it’s important to remove the core. This is also quite easy to achieve. Use an apple corer inititially and take out what you can with that and then, again, finish off with a small sharp knife or even a small teaspoon. You will be able to see when all of the core is removed. Taking the core out reduces cooking time and makes the dessert far more elegant to serve to your guests.
With your pears prepped it’s now time to make what I call a ‘flavour bomb’. Take a piece of muslin or old clean cloth and place in it some whole spices to flavour your poaching liquid. I use lime zest, star anise, a broken up piece of cinnamon bark, some caraway seeds and a few cloves but the emphasis here is on personal taste. You may like to add some cardomom or a vanilla pod. Possibly some rose petals or lavender, even. It’s up to you.
Once you have your spices of choice assembled, tie the flavour bomb tightly and place it in a large pan with the pears, 3/4 bottle good wine, 6 oz granulated sugar and enough water to cover. Poach gently until the pears are beautifully soft but not collapsing. You want them to be able to stand up for serving! This should take around an hour to an hour and a half. Once cooked, remove the pears with a slotted spoon. Take out the flavour bomb and reduce the cooking liquid to a lovely, thick glossy consistency but be careful, you don’t want to end up with red wine toffee.
Speaking of toffee, I made the honeycomb toffee for the crushed topping a few days before on Bonfire night to give to children but my conscience wouldn’t let me. I made it from my trusty 1950’s copy of Good Housekeeping thinking the word ‘honeycomb’ might imply some sort of lightness. It does not. The word ‘toffee’ was also quite misleading! It is just (rather attractive) pieces of rock hard sugar. Being me I was determined to find a use for it hence it’s deployment as an accompaniment to my pears but I also discovered it’s ideal for making honeycomb ice-cream, which would also go very well with these pears. I haven’t made any yet but if I do, I’ll post it here.
Should you want to make the ‘honeycomb toffee’, here’s how to do it. Take a 1lb of granulated sugar, 1/2 pint of water and 4 tbsp vinegar. Place them in a heavy bottomed pan, dissolve the sugar over a low heat and then boil gently to the soft crack stage (141 degrees centigrade, 285 degrees fahrenheit).
Tips for toffee: never stir unless the recipe specifically tells you to, keep the heat very low after it reaches 127 degrees centigrade/260 degrees fahrenheit and remove the pan from the heat when the mixture is one or two degrees below its target temperature as the pan holds the heat and the mixture may overboil if you take it right up to the target temperature. When you have achieved the correct heat add 1/2 level tsp bicarbonate of soda, stir like crazy and then pour the mixture into a buttered 18cm square tin.
When it is half set, mark it into squares and allow to fully cool. When it is fully cooled, break it up into squares, put it in a pretty dish, photograph it and then put it away, only to be taken out and used in small quantities in other dishes! Under no circumstances should anyone eat it purely on its own. Far too much neat sugar. I just placed a coiple of squares in the blender and whizzed it until it was crushed enough to sprinkle over the whipped cream.
For the coffee liqueur cream I simply added a few tbsps of Tia Maria to some whipping cream before I gave it the whisk treatment. Any liqueur would serve just as well or none at all if you’re tee total or serving them to children.
5 Anjou pears
6 oz granulated sugar
1 flavour bomb (see above)
3/4 bottle wine
1lb granulated sugar
4 tbs vinegar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
(Coffee Liqueur Cream)
1-2 tbsp Tia Maria or Kahlua