A special dessert to enjoy when the pears are as beautiful as they are right now!
What a good year for pears! Our Vermont pears have been sweet and juicy, with tons of flavor, and I’ve had plenty straight up with no adornment whatsoever. Most mornings, they appear in my breakfast fruit salad, and I have indulged in my favorite lunch salad more than once – a simple salad of arugula and/or frisée, with sliced pears, a few toasted pecans, and blue cheese crumbles, dressed with a light vinaigrette. Nothing better.
For a special dinner dessert this is one of the loveliest dishes I make! I even bought margarita glasses with a red swirl design just for the purpose of delighting my inn guests! A little sauce, a dollop of homemade crème fraîche, and a twist of lemon and you are all set.
Just a little extra adornment
Sometimes, I add dried cherries, cranberries, or even pomegranate seeds just for some tang. I’ve also made this for a summer wedding with raspberries as the garnish, jut for the pretty.
If you buy crème fraîche in the store, it is quite pricey. Much better to make it yourself for better flavor and less than half the price. (Recipe here). It is well worth the two minutes to make it!
For a little healthier option, you can also substitute a thick Greek unsweetened plain yoghurt, my favorite is made locally by Green Mountain Creamery. So rich and sweet and delicious, you would think you were eating something really decadent.
You can also make this with a white wine and pear or apple juice if you are not looking for the intense color. Use a table wine you would like to drink, but not your best bottle!
This looks like a lot of ingredients, but it comes together quickly. Serves six.
Pears Poached in Spiced Red Wine
6 ripe but still firm pears
Zest from 1 lemon, sliced into long slivers
That same lemon, sliced thinly
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, cut into five or six pieces
3 cups merlot or cabernet
2 cups or so pomegranate or cranberry juice
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup additional pomegranate or cranberry juice, cold
1/3 cup white sugar
Thin slivers of lemon zest for garnish
Dried cherries, cranberries, or pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
Choose ripe but firm pears that are local if possible, and look for a lovely shape, curved and alluring, and always with a beautiful stem attached. Avoid rock-hard pears.
With a sharp peeler, strip the skins from pears. Place half of the lemon slices in the bottom of a pan that will hold all six pears without crowding. Add pears and the rest of the lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, star anise, ground cinnamon, and vanilla bean. Pour wine over all, and add juice to bring level to top of pears.
They always want to float, but don’t let them or your pears will look like they fell asleep on the beach – beautifully red on one side and pale white on the other. So invert an extra pot top or small plate on top of the pears to keep them submerged, or rest a piece of parchment paper cut to the diameter of the pan on top.
Bring just to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or so on low heat, or until the pears are nearly done. Test by inserting a sharp knife into one pear to make sure it is softening. Cover and store, in the liquid overnight until morning. The longer in the juice, the deeper and richer the red color.
In the morning, remove the pears and set upright in dessert dishes. You may have to slice a little sliver off the bottom to make a stable base. This is a good piece for the chef to taste just to make sure the flavor is right!
Strain and place two cups of the cooking liquid in a small saucepan. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil. Mix cornstarch with cold juice, and whisk quickly into the hot wine sauce, stirring as the mixture thickens. Cook for one minute, until nice and thick and clear and shimmering.
Pour a little of the sauce over each pear, you don’t need much, and artfully arrange the zest garnish, a couple of strips over each one. If you are feeling really decadent, add a dollop of your homemade crème fraîche. I don’t sweeten it at this point because the pears are sweet enough!
Place on a lovely plate and top with a few pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries, or raspberries if you would like to guild this lily.
Thwacking pomegranate seeds: To remove the seeds from the fruit, break apart the pomegranate, hold it over a large bowl and knock the seeds out by thwacking the outside with a wooden spoon. This is best done outside if possible, the juice will stain! Wooden counters. Tea towels. Fingers. Your white shirt.
Some people do this in a large bowl under water, just using their fingers to separate the seeds from the flesh.
I prefer the thwack method; it is a lot more fun, plus I hardly ever get to use that word…
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