Poached pears are simple to make and a great do-ahead fall dessert. These pears, stuffed with mascarpone cheese, can be served as is or atop a half of a scone or almond croissant. (Using good-quality store-bought pastries for that is an easy time-saver.)
You'll have a little syrup left over; it can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Make Ahead: Poach the pears up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate them in their syrup.
- 8 firm, medium (3 1/2 pounds) pears, such as red, Bartlett or Bosc
- 1 bottle (750 ml) white wine, such as chardonnay
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
- 1-inch piece (unpeeled) ginger root, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
- 4 wide strips orange peel
- 6 whole star anise
- 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
- 4 store-bought scones or almond croissants, trimmed into 2 3/4-inch rounds and cut in half horizontally (optional)
- 1 ounce (1/3 cup) sliced almonds, toasted (see NOTE)
- Mint sprigs, for garnish
Peel the pears, leaving the stems intact. Use a melon-baller to core them from the bottom. If needed, trim the bottoms of the pears so the fruit can stand upright.
Line a large plate with a double thickness of paper towels. Cut out a round of parchment paper that will fit inside a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and set the paper aside.
Combine the wine, water, sugar, lemon grass, ginger, orange peel, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon stick and crushed red pepper flakes in the saucepan over medium-high heat; bring just to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and a syrup forms.
Place the pears in the syrup on their sides; cover them with the round of parchment paper and place a plate (just large enough to fit inside) on top of the paper to keep the pears submerged. Let the syrup return to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Cover with a lid and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the blade of a paring knife pierces the pears with slight resistance. Take care not to let the pears get too soft; they should be cooked through but still able to stand up. Transfer the pears to the paper towel-lined plate to cool upright.
To finish the syrup, bring it to a boil over medium-high heat; cook for about 30 minutes, until it reduces to a thickened, golden state. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, strain the syrup and discard any solids. There should be about 2 1/2 cups.
To fill the pears, put the mascarpone cheese into a quart-size plastic food storage bag. Seal the bag and cut 1/2 inch from a bottom corner. Using the bag as a pastry bag, fill each pear with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mascarpone. Cover the pears with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
To serve: If using the scone or croissant halves, place each one cut side up at the center of a shallow soup bowl. Top each half with a stuffed pear. Ladle 1/4 cup of the syrup over the pear. Sprinkle toasted almond slices around each pear and garnish with a mint sprig. (Alternatively, the pears may be served on a platter, reserving most of the syrup to serve on the side.)
NOTE: To toast almonds, place them in a heavy skillet, stirring or shaking over medium heat for 1 or 2 minutes, until just lightly browned.
From columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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