Poached pears, so elegant and refined, are also my idea of a party trick. They feel fancy but are the dinner hostess's dream dessert. They cook ahead of time and hold perfectly in the fridge until they are wanted. And while they are cooking they perfume the house so sweetly. What more could you want in a light spring dessert?
Over-wintered woody fruit like apples and pears are the best way to enjoy fruit in the spring, before strawberries and rhubarb emerge. But cooking them gently in a poaching syrup is a light, delicate way of enjoying these firm fruits — this recipe in particular yields a delicately tender pear, with just hints of spice and warm undertones of honey.
They cook so fast, and the fruit and syrup are perfect over pudding or in a tart, or spooned over oatmeal for breakfast.
If you want to get extra fancy you can serve them with crème anglaise custard sauce (which can also be made ahead) and a square of baked puff pastry (you can buy frozen puff pastry at the grocery store). Simple, easy, do-head dessert that looks like it cost a million bucks and belongs on a white tablecloth at a restaurant!
This is also an alcohol-free poached pear recipe; no red or white wine needed.
Honey and Spice Poached Pears
4 ripe yet very firm Bosc or Bartlett pears
4 cups water
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
4-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 star anise pod, broken in half
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
Peel the pears and cut them in half from top to bottom, leaving the stems intact. Core each pear half by scooping out the center with a melon baller or spoon.
Add the water, honey, and sugar to a 4-quart pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir until the sugar and honey are dissolved, then add the ginger, cloves, star anise, and cinnamon stick.
Slip the pears into the liquid and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pears can be just pierced with a fork.
Transfer the pears and the poaching liquid to a smaller container, cover, and refrigerate overnight. (You can eat the pears immediately, if you want, but they will have a deeper flavor after steeping overnight in the poaching liquid.) The next day drain and serve the pears.
If you wish you can reduce the poaching liquid into a syrup; place in a wide saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes or until syrupy and reduced by half.
(Images: Faith Durand)