I love poached pears. If they are a dessert option on a restaurant menu, that is what I will always choose. It doesn’t honestly matter what they are poached in - red wine and cinnamon, white wine, or even just plain water and sugar. I love them. Seriously, have you ever had a poached pear with chocolate syrup? Warm or cold, softly poached fruit with chocolate syrup trickling down over the top? It’s pure ambrosia, and you get to feel good about choosing a fruit dessert.
I had, however, never poached pears myself. For some reason, the word ‘poach’ strikes terror in my cook’s heart. But the arrival of nearly a dozen ripe pears in my organic fruit and vegetable boxes last week made me decide I had to try. You see these pears had somehow gotten terrible bruises all over their skin - but peeling one revealed that was as far as the bruising had gone. They were delicious - ripe, juicy gorgeousness. However the way their skin was looking there was absolutely no way that was going to last. If I wanted to enjoy those pears, I was going to have to do something, and quickly.
Encouraged by my success with poached eggs, I figured it was time to try to get past my fear. So I turned to an expert. David Lebovitz wrote a fantastic post on poaching pears back in April 2009, a post that is a delight to read as well as providing well written, easy to understand instructions, with variations.
I followed David’s directions exactly, but doubled the quantities for water and sugar as I had so many pears. I decided to go the simple route in terms of flavouring, and used vanilla sugar instead of just plain sugar. I also popped a vanilla bean into the pan, sliced lengthwise down the middle so the seeds could spill out into the liquid as it cooked. David’s tip about the circle of parchment paper over the top of the pears in inspired - don’t think of skipping this step.
You can’t imagine how beautiful these pears smelled when they were cooking. The whole house was redolent with a gorgeous vanilla fug. My husband and son noticed it as soon as they walked through the door, and I felt like a complete domestic goddess.
I let the pears cool in their liquid as directed, but not in the saucepan. I rput them in a large open dish for that step. When they got to the stage they were just warm, I removed a bit of the liquid and covered them. I left them at room temperature as we were going to eat them in a couple of hours.
I skipped the step of reducing the liquid as I didn’t want to serve the pears in a sugar syrup - I had sneakily tasted one and they were just sweet enough. The vanilla flavour had permeated the pears beautifully, so instead I served them, drained, alongside some good vanilla ice cream. I ground a bit of whole nutmeg over the top for colour and flavour. (Don’t go crazy with the nutmeg though. A little bit adds a great flavour, but too much, and it can act as a hallucinogen. I got carried away once, grinding nutmeg on to hot milk, and everyone in our house had the weirdest dreams that night!)
The praise I got for this dessert was heartwarming, and I confess I shared none of it with the author of the recipe, David Lebovitz. I will share the credit now though, and send you here, for the recipe. Please tell him I sent you. I’m off to the kitchen to poach more pears, with cinnamon this time...