Anyone that has been our house for dinner more than once will undoubtedly have been served this for dessert. The reason being that by the time dessert comes around I’ve usually had too much wine and find it hard to focus on anything complicated.
I usually try to keep desserts simple and mostly prepped in advance, such as melt-in-the-middle Babycakes or Pavlova. Once I stupidly thought Lemon & Lime Soufflés would be a good idea… I had to watch what I drank all evening and vowed never to go down that avenue again!
I usually poach the pears even before I start prepping the main course and therefore apart from a scoop of ice-cream, which even I can manage at that stage of night, this is a is simple, no hassle and totally dinner party friendly dessert!
Aromatic Poached Pears
1 liter Water
1 Vanilla Pod, halved lengthwise
1 Cinnamon Stick
6 Pears, Preferably with stalks still attached (with leaves too is even better)
Serves 6 People
Prepare the poaching liquid:
Put the water and sugar into a saucepan that is big enough to hold your pears. Pare the zest of the orange and lemon in long strips and then squeeze the juice from the lemon. Put the zests, lemon juice, vanilla pod, cinnamon stick and cloves into the saucepan. Put the saucepan on a low heat and gradually dissolve the sugar. Stir occasionally to help the process.
Prepare the pears:
Conference or Peckham pears are the best varieties for this recipe due to their ability to hold their shape. However I generally never find these in the supermarket and just go for the sturdiest looking pears available, or those that still have their stalks and sometimes even their leaves still attached, for prettiness sake!!!
Using a swivel peeler, or a small sharp paring knife, remove the core from the pears by tunneling gradually up the middle of the pear. Be careful not to go too far! Cut a slither off the bottom of the pear to allow the pear to “stand” on its own. Then gently peel the pears, starting from the stalk end, and peeling downwards carefully following the shape and form of the pear. Add the pears to the poaching liquid once the sugar has dissolved.
Cooking the pears:
The pears cook best when poached standing upright… but they have a tendency to fall over. Don’t worry, just rotate them gently during the cooking process to make sure they are evenly poached. I also cut out a circle of parchment paper, using the saucepan lid as a guide, and place this over the pears whilst they are poaching to allow them to stay submerged.
Depending on the pear variety/ripeness, etc., the pears can take from 20 minutes to an hour. I generally start the poaching process before starting the main course prep, just to make sure they are cooked in time for dessert. Once poached they don’t discolour.
To test if the pear is cooked, remove one from the cooking liquid and insert a cutlery knife a little bit into the bottom of the pear where you have removed the core. The knife should only meet minimal resistance.
Once they are ready, gently remove them and place them in the serving bowls and leave to cool.
[N.B. Don’t use the stalk to remove them in case the stalk detaches from the pear.]
Once the pears are removed, increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce until it becomes thicker and more syrup-like. Taste regularly and once it hits the intensity of sweetness and flavor you like, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Remove the cinnamon stick, cloves and vanilla bean from the syrup and discard. Take the lemon and orange peel out and put to one side for serving. Pour or spoon some of the poaching liquid over the pears, add a slither or two of the peel (for decoration) and add a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.