For many reasons, the poached pear is one of my favorite desserts. First, just look at it. The color, the jewel-like tone - very elegant. Second - it's fruit! It's an ordinary pear, transformed. It's Cinderella at the ball. Okay, that's a bit overboard, but still. Poaching takes the pear to a new level. The pear's natural sweetness is enhanced by a long, leisurely bath in sugar and water and wine and spices, and at the same time, the pale color is replaced by this rich purpley hue. The fruit is juicy and light - a satisfying, but not bloating, way to end a meal.
Have I rhapsodized enough?
Okay. To make the whole display you see in the picture above, you'll also need (in addition to the recipe I'm about to share) the following two recipes:
Now. Let us poach. Oh, and before I forget, you either want to make these in the morning to serve in the evening, or make them the day before.
You will need:
3 cups dry red wine
3 cups water
1 lb, 8 oz sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
A large sauce pot
And - 4 pears - ripe, but firm, with no bruises (if possible), and, also if possible, stems intact.
(Now, depending on the size saucepot you have, you may need to increase the other ingredients in order to cover the pears while they're in the liquid. Just increase proportionately, as best you can. It doesn't have to be perfect.)
Place the water, wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves in the saucepot and bring to a boil.
While the poaching liquid is heating up, you'll need to peel the pears. You need to peel every little bit of skin off, but leave the stem on. (It's also a good idea to remove the core carefully through the bottom of the pear. And slice the bottom of the pear so it stands up nicely, if you are planning to serve the pear upright on the plate. In this photo session, I COMPLETELY FORGOT to core the pears. This is what happens when your mind is not entirely on the job.)
Anyway, once you've peeled your pears completely...
here's a swell trick I learned. Get a brand new nylon scrubby thing - those green ones you use to scrape stuck-on food off your nonstick pans. And by gently scrubbing the surface of the pear, you can remove those "peel lines" so your pear will look like this:
Pretty cool, huh?
Do that with all of your pears, and then core them and level off the bottom if you want to.
Once the poaching liquid reaches a boil, place the pears in the liquid. This is when you need to make sure the pears can be completely submerged. Yes, they'll float to the top if you let them, but just check by pushing them under a bit. If there's space, you're in good shape. If not, add at least some more water. If you need a lot more liquid, also add some more wine and sugar.
In order to poach (and color) the pears evenly, you need to keep them submerged. The poaching liquid is too hot for you to stand there and do it manually, plus you'd be standing there for a really long time, so the best things to try out are items like pot lids or pie plates or cake pans. I had an 8" cake pan that fit perfectly in the pot and kept all four pears under the level of the liquid.
Let the pears simmer while you do other things, like wash the floors, or do all your laundry, or watch your car or something. Really. Just check on it periodically. As the liquid reduces, the temperature will creep back up, so you'll have to lower the temperature a bit from time to time.
And while you're checking on the simmer status, it's also interesting to check the color of the pears every now and then.
Early on, they'll start to absorb the color of the wine, and they'll begin to turn pink. But after a few hours...
They'll look like this.
Once they achieve the color you're looking for AND they are soft but not mushy, shut off the heat, remove the cake pan from the liquid, and allow the whole mixture to cool. Put the cooled pot of liquid and pears in the fridge for either several hours or overnight.
The pears, at this point are done. You've still got all this liquid, though, and it'd be a shame to waste it. So...what should you do?
Make a syrup! Follow me...
Remove the pears from the liquid and place in another container in the fridge. Put the pot of liquid on a burner and heat it back up again. If you want to, you can add other spices or flavorings as well. I put raisins in mine.
Heat the liquid to boiling and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer and simmer and simmer until the liquid has reduced by at least half. As it cools, the liquid will thicken because it is now - voila! - a syrup.
And now, if you want to be fancy, pour some syrup on your plate, and some creme anglaise, add your pear, garnish with some raisins and a florentine (or other cookie, if you prefer).
And beware. If you're not careful, someone will try to swipe some.
How is it, Julia?
And really. Who's more honest than a three-and-a-half-year-old about her likes and dislikes?
(P.S. To see another poached pear recipe idea, click here.)