Over the last week, I’ve posted vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes for cranberry sauce with a twist, colorful mashed potatoes, aromatic stuffed delicata squash, an apple crisp made with ground almonds, a bright carrot soup with leeks and thyme, and a silly po-turkey. For my final recipe in this pre-Thanksgiving (predominantly local food) extravaganza, I would like to share a very special dessert we made this week. My mother in law returned from a visit to Whole Foods raving about poached pears she’d seen. Waxing poetic about the saffron infused, golden pears, we had to make some of our own. With her suggestion of creme fraiche, I was definitely sold.
The next day Marc and I took a jaunt down to the market and discovered some gorgeous colossal bosc pears. That night a delicious meal came together of roasted cauliflower and garlic, and baked sweet dumpling squash. For a little more color, we threw together our vegetarian Caesar salad (not complete without fresh garlic croutons made from a local bakery’s chewy sour baguette).
Marc spent a good half hour researching poached pear recipes on the web. Our usual modus operandi is to research a particular dish, and then hybridize a bunch of recipes to fit it to our tastes. That night Marc found several from epicurious.com that looked promising, but all the recipes included way too much wine, in my opinion. One called for an entire bottle. So, we tinkered and played with quantities, and decreased the sugar, coming up with this tasty treat.
The pears take a bit of time to make, but it’s so incredibly easy, it will look like you slaved over them for hours. It’s a sophisticated, even romantic dessert. The saffron turns the pears a brilliant golden hue, and the vanilla seeds speckle the syrup with color and flavor. Because of that, this is one of the very few occasions where I would recommend peeling fruits or veggies.
The flavors are exotic and layered, yet familiar, and the creme fraiche garnish adds a creamy tang to this sweet aromatic delicacy. When my mother in law tasted the syrup, her eyes widened and she exclaimed, “How unusual!”. One of the wonderful benefits of this confection is how easily you could scale it up or down…an intimate evening for two…or a raucous holiday celebration for 20. This is the kind of dessert that looks like you worked a lot harder than you did. Easy yet superb for the most refined palate.
Pears Poached in Saffron Vanilla Bean Syrup
4 whole firm pears, peeled but left with stems intact (best if you can find some local ones)
1 1/2 C. organic evaporated sugar cane juice (it’s unbleached granulated sugar that has a blond color and still has the natural minerals and enzymes from the sugar cane. great stuff if you haven’t tried it yet and tastes delicious.)
1 C. freshly squeezed orange juice (I had tangerines from the farmers market, so I used 4 of them)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 1/2 C. water (or you could use some pear or apple juice and some water)
1 1/2 C. white wine
1 fresh vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch saffron
4 whole firm pears, peeled but left with stems in tact (best if you can find some local ones)
Creme fraiche to garnish
With a knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape all the tiny seeds into a heavy large saucepan. Add in the vanilla bean halves and everything but the pears and creme fraiche. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer.
Add the pears and bring the temperature back up. Reduce heat and simmer slowly until pears are tender when pierced, about 25 minutes. Carefully transfer pears to a plate. Throw out the cinnamon stick and now-flaccid vanilla bean halves and boil the liquid in the saucepan until reduced to a thin, but quite sweet syrup, about 30 minutes. (You can let it do it’s thing for about 20 minutes, and then come back and stir it for the last 10 or so.)
If you make this a day ahead, you can put the pears back into the liquid and let them cool and soak overnight. The golden saffron color will deepen in the pears with time. Either way, serve the pears warm, garnished with the creme fraiche and a drizzle of the syrup.