When company’s coming, my first plan of attack is to get dessert done. When I want to make a splash, I check out my friend’s sites, Tish Boyle Sweet Dreams or Baking Style Diary by Lisa Yockelson, for always delicious recipes that actually work (something that can’t always be said about recipes posted on web sites). My usual winter company dinners are rich, filling stews or braises that I don’t want to end with an over-the-top dessert. So, over the years, I have come to rely on poached pears to bail me out.
You can make the poaching liquid out of almost anything – red wine, white wine, fruit juices, cider, even water if you have some citrus to add a little flavor. You just need enough liquid to cover the pears completely and a pan of a size that will hold them standing straight up or one in which the fruit can be completely submerged with a lid keeping the fruit totally covered. The amount of liquid you need will depend upon the size of the pan you use.
I prefer a highly spiced poaching liquid – I usually use red wine with some added orange juice and lots of black peppercorns, fresh ginger, bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, coriander, and citrus peel. I sweeten with brown sugar. I save the liquid and reuse it a number of times, but I generally take off a cup or so and boil it down to a syrup to garnish the finish dish. And, sometimes, I brush the poached pears with the syrup and then bake them to a lovely burnished sheen.
You can serve the pears like plain Janes or drizzle them with the reduced poaching liquid, dress them up with sauces (Crème Anglaise works beautifully) or cream cheeses, such as mascarpone or a rich, runny brie, or whatever works for you. If you have poached them in white wine and they remain pale in color, they look wonderful floating on a circle of bittersweet chocolate sauce.
No matter what I choose, I usually add some cookies – ginger, if I have them. If not, I cut homemade (or homemade-style if I don’t have my own on hand) white bread into little rectangles, butter it prodigiously, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and bake until crisp. Who’s to know that I didn’t spend a day in the kitchen baking away?
6 Bosc pears with stems
4 to 6 cups red or white wine
2 cups orange juice
1 cup light brown sugar or to taste
Here is where you’re on your own – black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, coriander, ginger - I use about 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 2 cinnamon sticks, 4 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon coriander, an inch or so of fresh ginger, a few strips of orange and lemon peel OR whatever I have on hand
Carefully peel the pears, keeping the stems intact. Place them in acidulated water
(cold water with the juice of a lemon in it). This will keep them from discoloring as you finish up the whole batch. Carefully cut a small piece off of the blossom end so that the pear will stand up straight.
Combine the wine, juice, sugar, and seasonings in a nonreactive saucepan (as discussed). Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the pears, standing them upright, if possible. Cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover and simmer, taking care that the fruit remains submerged, for about 30 minutes or until pears are tender but remain firm.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the poaching liquid. If using within a couple of hours, let stand at room temperature. If not, store, in the poaching liquid, covered and refrigerated.
When ready to serve, remove from the liquid and gently pat dry. I sometimes let the pears sit for about 30 minutes on a double layer of paper towel so they don’t weep on the serving plate.
Serve the pears, as is, or garnish the plate with a sauce or cheese and pass cookies on the side.