Pears are one of my favorite autumn/winter fruits, perhaps because the 60 year old William Pear tree that lives on in my childhood-garden memory didn’t start dropping its heavy golden fruit all over our lawn until mid-to-late September.
I vividly recall fighting off the wasps and grabbing basket-loads of juicy pears for Mum to whip up into a favorite dessert; poached pears swimming in a rich chocolate sauce.
Pears poached in wine are a lot more sophisticated than that long-ago treat and they make a very pretty alternative to those heavy pies and rich desserts usually served around Thanksgiving and Christmas. They have a perfumed, seasonal spiciness and considering how unusually delicious and impressive-looking they are, no-one will guess that it took only minutes to prepare them.
Once cooked, I recommend chilling them overnight in their poaching liquid. Turn them around occasionally so that they absorb the liquid evenly to become a lovely deep pink. I used an old vine Zinfandel; Zin’s have a dark berry quality that works perfectly here – and cooking with cheap rough plonk (wine), will always yield an inferior result.
The syrup reduction can be made up to a couple of hours before serving. The pears will keep in their poaching liquid and continue to improve in the fridge for up to 2 days, freeing you up to do all that last minute crazy kitchen stuff.
I like to serve them with a dollop of crème fraiche and a cinnamon stick but they’re seriously good without any dairy accompaniment. Bosc pears are ideal for this recipe as they hold their shape after cooking.
2 cups (475ml) of good red wine
2 cups (475ml) of water
1 cup plus 1/2 cup of fine white sugar (355ml measure), divided
15 juniper berries
3 sticks of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Six firm, ripe pears (pref Bosc), peeled, left whole and with the stems still attached
In a pan that’s large enough to hold the pears (but not so big that the liquid is shallow), combine everything except half a cup (118ml measure) of the sugar and the pears. Bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar dissolves, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 mins.
Trim just enough from the bases of the peeled pears so that they’ll stand upright when you serve them. Place the pears in the poaching liquid and cook gently for 10 minutes or until just tender, turning carefully a few times to make sure they cook throughout.
Turn off the heat and allow them to cool in the poaching liquid. Cover and chill overnight (or up to 2 days) turning them over occasionally to ensure that they color evenly. The longer you keep them in the fridge, the deeper they’ll color.
A few hours before you’re ready to serve, remove the pears from the poaching liquid – pour 1 cup (237ml) of the liquid (discard the rest) into a small wide pan, along with the remaining half cup (128ml measure) of sugar and a pinch of salt. Boil for 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and become syrupy. Take off the heat and cool.
To serve; pour a small pool of syrup into the bottom of six serving bowls and place a pear on top. Carefully drizzle the remaining syrup on top of each pear and serve with a cinnamon stick and perhaps a spoonful of creme fraiche or whipped cream.
You’ll need a dessert fork as well as a spoon.