Poached pears make a great dessert. They’re pretty and tasty in a way that lends itself to a variety of flavors. They are light and therefore perfect after a heavy meal. But they can be paired with many yummy sweets - cake, cookies, ice cream - if you would like the dinner to end with tummy satisfying, gratifying richness. I like to use whole pears because there are fun things you can do with them.
The Internet is frighteningly full of recipes. You may poach pears with vanilla, or white wine or red wine or with spices, especially ginger, anise, cardamom and cinnamon or with flavored extracts such as almond or peppermint. It is hard to make a poached pear anything but yummy. I do have one cardinal rule. Poach pears in a liquid that is half pear nectar and half what you selected for flavored liquid. This brings out the “peariness;” producing a more intense pear taste quite superior to preparations that do not use pear nectar in poaching.
Especially when you want a dinner with stand-out, visually impressive dishes, decorate the pears to match the occasion, the season or simply for fun. If you are going for knock-out gorgeous, beautify your pears with drizzles of colorful sauces to match the season or occasion. If you are going for fun, choose a shape appropriate for your dinner. The pears shown below illustrate both concepts.
The Christmas Pear shows how pretty sauces can glorify an otherwise plain dessert.
The Christmas Pear
This beautiful creation was served for dessert at a dinner sponsored by Les Amis de”Escoffier of New York at Monte’s Trattoria in Greenwich Village. The sauce was a yummy zabaglione.
The next three are pears shaped into symbols of holidays and season. The basic preparation for these different shapes is described below.
The Halloween Pear
For our Halloween dinner in “The Dish on Dazzling Dinners” we presented “poltergeist pears.” The eyes were small pieces of raisin and the mouth a strip of dried cranberry.
The Easter Pear
Make a colorful bunny. After poaching, place the body in water colored orange. When the pear begins to color, remove enough liquid so that one side of the body is more strongly colored. Using a spare pear, cut a head and tail, leaving them uncolored. Cut ears and color light green. Of course, any combination of soft colors suggestive of Easter will be great.
The Winter Pear
Make a snowman. The eyes are black peppercorns, the mouth a strip of dried cranberry, the buttons whole cloves and the arms pieces of pecan.
The three above have a basic preparation.
Poach enough pears to provide one for each guest plus additional spare pears to use for body parts such as head or tail or ears.
Use a whole pear for the body. Cut a thin horizontal slice from the top for attaching a head and, if necessary, a thin slice from the bottom if the pear will not stand upright. For a head, use the small end of a melon baller to scoop out a small ball from a “spare” pear. Cut sections as appropriate to resemble tails or ears.
To join the body to a head, insert one end of a toothpick into the middle of the top of the body and the other end into the middle of the head. Slide the head down until it rests firmly on the body. Do the same with a toothpick to attach a large tail or ears to the body. For a small tail or facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) make slits with a thin, sharp knife and push the feature into the slit.
For features such as eyes, nose or mouth use as seems best peppercorns, whole cloves, pieces of dried fruit or fresh vegetables.
A note: You need not make a “fun” pear for every guest unless you have a lot of time. Just one will impress and amuse.