It’s easier than you think. Just because something looks fancy, doesn’t really mean it’s fancy. Not to say that my recipe for poached pears looks particularly fancy — even pretentious-fancy — but you know what I mean, I think.
Anyway, they truly are easy to make. I modified this recipe from what I thought was Giada’s but I can’t find it on the Food Network’s web site so who knows where I got my inspiration. My recipe uses apple juice for the poaching liquid instead of red wine, which is typically used to give this dessert a beautiful red stain. But as I didn’t want to open a whole bottle of red, I opted for apple juice. I’ve seen recipes that use Moscato, Riesling and other white wines but let’s just say this is a less snobby version.
Several pears, preferably Bosc pears for their sturdiness and long attractive stems. Avoid overly ripe ones.
Apple juice, just enough to cover all the pears in liquid (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
2 to 3 lemon peel strips
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a vanilla bean if you have it
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon all-spice or cloves
2 or 3 tablespoons butter, depending on your mood
When it comes to these ingredients, it’s okay to be flexible. Heck, this recipe is something that just grew out of my mind. If you don’t have vanilla extract and don’t want to go to the store and pay $5 for two ounces of it, that’s okay. Same thing goes for the cinnamon stick. If you only have the ground version, that’s fine. Oftentimes with recipes, you may feel pressure to stick to what the ingredients call for. This is necessary in many cases for certain desserts, which under the rule of food chemistry require strict measurements, but hey we’re poaching pears here. Feel free to knock out some of the spices if you don’t like them. A few indispensable things, however, are the juice, the sugar and at least one of the spices. Also, make sure the pears have equal ripeness. You don’t want one of the pears to be very ripe while the others are still catching up. The result will be one very soft pear on the verge of falling apart while the others are perfect.
Another important factor, purely for aesthetics’ sake, is to leave the stems on. Try to find pears with their stems still intact. I think this is what makes poached pears such a delightful dessert because their stems create a very elegant effect. Be careful when you handle them, as they can easily break off. As you can see, most of the stems broke off my pears, save two precious ones that still had them. Remember: Preserve the stem!
Begin heating your poaching liquid. Add the apple juice in a saucepan and stir in the brown sugar, spices, vanilla and lemon peel. Allow it to begin boiling.
Slice a bit off the bottom of each pear so that you can stand them upright when they’re finished. Next, core the pears if you have a corer. I do not have one so I skipped this step at the expense of the eater who will have to cut and eat around it. By calling this post “Easy…” I probably also meant that it will be a ghetto approach. Hey, a girl’s gotta improvise. Next, peel your pears. What I like to do is leave a bit of the skin on the tops like so — this adds extra flair and it looks like the pears have hats on.
Once peeled, add them to the poaching liquid and simmer. Be delicate with them to avoid stem breakage. Simmer the pears on medium heat for about 30 minutes until they become soft but not too soft. By this, I mean you should be able to stick a fork in it easily but not too easily.
When your fork gives in easily, remove the pears from the pot and set them aside on a plate to cool before serving. Continue reducing the poaching juice for approximately 15 more minutes. The liquid should be shrunken in half by now. It will be quite sweet, as the brown sugar and the already-sweet apple juice will make a very sugary sauce for your pears. Near the end of reducing the sauce, add butter. This will add richness [note that once the sauce and pears are completely cooled, the butter will harden into little pieces]. When the sauce is complete, pour it over a strainer to remove the peppercorns, cinnamon and lemon peel.
Spoon the sauce over the plate of upright pears and serve with vanilla ice cream or the like. I served mine with Trader Joe’s Greek-style Honey Yogurt, which is just beyond fantastic with or without these pears. The slight sourness of the yogurt goes nicely with the sweetness of the caramel-like, spiced sauce. Enjoy!