Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poached Pears

Hmmm. I just noticed that lots of the recent recipes contain bacon, or some form of bacon. Time to do something a little different today.

Poached pears are an underappreciated dessert. I often forget about poached pears. But then I'm reminded again when I go to my favorite place to eat, The Restaurant, where poached pears are always on the dessert menu. Sometimes I get a craving for a sweet poached pear at home. And sometimes I make myself some.

There are many different ways to flavor a poached pear. But the main recipe is always the same--poach the pears in a simple syrup of sugar and water. Wine can be added for additional flavor or color. Spices can be as simple as vanilla or citrus zest, or as spicy as five-spice powder, star anise, or ginger. This is the most basic poached pear--just simple syrup flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. You can serve it with ice cream, whipped cream, with cake, or by itself.

Make sure you have a pot large enough to hold both the simple syrup and the pears.

Start out with sugar and water.

Use a sharp paring knife or a vegetable peeler to peel off the yellow part of the lemon rind. As you can see, I mangled my lemon zest a bit--my lemon was on the older side, and the rind wasn't as firm as if it was fresh.

You'll do a better job than me and not completely destroy your lemon zest, right?


I threw in a cinnamon stick, too.

Because fall is coming and cinnamon is a fall spice. I guess.

Turn the stove on and let your mixture come to at least a low boil. You want it to be hot enough to melt all the sugar.

Here are my pears. It works best if you use firmer pears. I was planning on making all three of these pears, but then one turned out to be very, very squishy (I didn't poach them the same day I bought them, unfortunately) so I only made two. There's enough syrup here to make 4-6 pears, however.

Luckily they were easier to peel than the lemon! I peeled the pears and then used a melon baller to scoop out the seeds.

If you wanted this to be an even more impressive dessert, you could leave the pears whole (you could seed them, or not, your choice.) They do look very pretty, with their stems still on.

De-seeded and ready to be poached.

Hopefully by this time your syrup has come to a boil. Lower the heat and let it go down to a simmer.

Now you can add the vanilla, if you want to. I was going to use a vanilla bean, but I couldn't find them. And I know not everyone has vanilla beans on hand.

If you use vanilla bean, add it at the beginning, with the zest. Cut the bean in half and scrape out all the vanilla caviar.

If you're using regular vanilla extract, add it now. My feeling is that if you add it too early, the vanilla liquer will burn off and leave you with not-that-much flavor. By adding it now, the pears get a little time to absorb the vanilla liquid, and because the syrup isn't boiling, it won't burn off as fast.

Now, remembering that this is hot syrup, carefully lower the pears into the syrup.

Let the pears poach in the simmering syrup for 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of the pears and how many there are. Come back occasionally and press the pears into the syrup; any spots that are left outside the syrup will turn brown.

If you're poaching whole pears, you may have to move them around to make sure all sides get time in the syrup.

Once the pears have finished poaching, you can serve them right away, or you can pop them in the fridge to serve them later. Just make sure there's enough syrup to keep them covered. They're a great dessert if you're having guests over, because they can be kept in the syrup up to 5 days in advance. Just warm them gently in the syrup in a small pot on the stove.

What a quick and fun dessert! If you wanted, you could reduce some of the syrup down and pour it over the top of the pears. They are great cold or hot, by themselves or with another dessert. They are good for breakfast too! Try poaching your own pears and using your favorite spicy blends or fruity wines.

 Recipe: Poached Pears

5 c. water
2 1/2 c. sugar
4 1x3" strips of lemon zest (or the equivalent)
1 2" cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. vanilla (or 1/2 vanilla bean)
3 firm pears, peeled (and seeded, if desired)

Combine water, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick in a large pot. If using a vanilla bean, halve the bean lengthwise and scrape out the vanilla caviar. Add all to the pot. Heat until reaching a gentle boil, to melt the sugar.

When syrup has come to a boil, lower heat to bring the syrup to a simmer. Add vanilla, if using extract, and pears. Poach pears for 5-7 minutes, making sure all parts of the pear are covered by syrup.

Serve immediately, or store in a tightly-lidded container for up to 5 days. Reheat pears slowly, in syrup.

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