Poached pears typically appear on Fall and Winter menus. However, year-round availability makes them irresistible as a springtime dessert choice. To transform the classic cold-weather preparation, we opted for the evocative and bright flavor components that cardamom offers. Using white wine instead of the traditional red, and reducing the poaching liquid to a syrup, the sweet fruit flavor of the pears shines as the star of the plate. The final addition of sweet mascarpone elevates this dessert to an ethereal conclusion for any meal.
Makes 4 poached pears, Serves 8
1 750 ml bottle dry white wine
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
1 vanilla bean, split
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (about 25)
Zest from ½ of a lemon removed with a vegetable peeler, bitter white pith removed
4 firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled and cored
Sweet Mascarpone (recipe follows)
Sprigs of Apple Mint for garnish (substituting regular mint if unavailable)
Prepare the poaching liquid:
In a large heavy-bottoms saucepan, combine the wine, brown sugar, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Place over medium-high heat and add the apple cider, cardamom pods and lemon zest. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the poaching liquid to simmer for 5 minutes.
Prepare the pears for poaching:After peeling and coring the pears, rub with a bit of lemon juice from the zested lemon to prevent discoloration. Slice of a small portion of the cored end to create a flat surface, which will allow the pears to stand upright in the poaching liquid.
Poach the pears:
Add the prepared pears to the simmering poaching liquid. Lay pears on their sides. Allow the poaching liquid to return to a simmer and poach the pears over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Pears should be fully submerged in the poaching liquid. If they are not, turn the pears half way through the cooking time to ensure even poaching.
After 5 minutes, stand the pears upright and allow the pears to continue poaching for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the thickest part of the pear is just tender when pierced with the tip of a metal cake tester. Remove the pears to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature (about 2 hours).
Turn the heat to medium-high and return the poaching liquid to a boil. Boil for an additional 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to 2 cups. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a cooling vessel. Allow to come to room temperature (about 2 hours).Pour the cooled poaching liquid over the pears and cover with cling film. Place in the refrigerator until chilled through, at least 4 hours.
Prepare the Sweet Mascarpone:
1 cup (8 ounces) of Mascarpone cheese
3 teaspoons Lavender or other floral honey
½ tablespoon confectioners sugar
Combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Remove the pears from the liquid and place on a cutting board.
Strain the liquid into a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Allow the liquid to boil until reduced by half. Remove from heat and hold until ready to serve.
Cut each pear in half from stem to core. Exercise care here as the pears are now delicate having been poached. With a melon baller carefully remove the seed pods. Thinly slice the pear beginning just below the stem, keeping the pear in tact. Fan the pear onto a chilled dessert plate.
Add a dollop of the Sweet Mascarpone alongside the pear. Pour 3 tablespoons of the syrup over the pear, allowing the syrup to spill onto the plate. Garnish with a sprig of apple mint. Serve immediately.
While preparing this dessert in advance is wonderful, you can make it the day you intend to serve it by adjusting the recipe as follows:
When you remove the pears from the poaching liquid, transfer the pears to a prepared ice bath, allowing them to cool. Once cool, remove the pears from the water and set in a bowl allowing them to come to room temperature.
After the poaching liquid has been reduced and strained, place the vessel holding the syrup in the ice bath and allow to cool. Once cool, pour over the pears, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
Dried fruit garnish:
If you prefer a bright color in your presentation, add ¼ cup dried cherries or strawberries to the poaching liquid at the final reduction to a syrup. Remove the reconstituted fruit with a slotted spoon and transfer to a small bowl.
Once the pear is sliced and fanned on the chilled dessert plate, add a few pieces of the fruit to the plate. Add Sweet Mascarpone and poaching syrup as instructed above, and mint sprig for final garnish.
[Chef’s Note: I highly recommend preparing the pears one day in advance. Holding the pears in the liquid develops the rich naturally sweet flavors of the pears, though you sacrifice the aromatic qualities of the cardamom in the just poached liquid.
The poaching time is wholly dependent on the ripeness of your pears. Check after 10 minutes and continue checking every couple of minutes thereafter. You do not want to over-poach or your pears will begin to turn to mush, and certainly become mush when you hold them in the poaching liquid.
When purchasing your pears, try to buy four pears of the same firmness and size to ensure the same poaching times for each pear.
Apple Mint is a lovely variety of mint, and one I grow in my herb garden. Its lighter, sweeter flavor, I find, is preferable to the sometimes potent mint available in the markets. Aromatically more subtle, it is brilliant in mint sauces, brewed teas and makes an extraordinary flavor addition to vanilla ice cream.]
Recipe and photo by Donna Marie Zotter