Monday, November 7, 2011

Roasted Caramel Pears with Crème Fraîche and Toasted Pistachios

Want to make a dessert that's dead easy and delicious, where the main part of the dish is comprised of two ingredients (pears and brown sugar) and makes it own sauce? Well, this just might be the one.

Lynn and I saw this on one of Joanne Weir's cooking shows and looked up the recipe on her site. We made it for my birthday dinner and periodically rave about it. We're making it as a Thanksgiving dessert, in lieu of pie, because we never seem to get to the pie on Thanksgiving.

For this recipe, I used crème fraîche instead of the called-for Marscapone, omitted the honey and used toasted, ground pistachios instead of pecans. I like the slight sour-ness to the crème fraîche, I think adding honey to it is overkill and toasted pistachios give a little crunch, texture and nutty flavor to the dish.

This is not a regular "Sweet Sunday" recipe, but I used the pears for a "Sweet Sunday" tart recipe that will be posted very soon.

Selecting Pears & Pear Care

The original post from which I adapted this recipe calls for Bartlett pears. For my version, I chose Bosc pears. Bartlett pears will release more liquid and be much softer when completely cooked. Just make sure they are barely ripe when you're ready to prepare your dish or your roasted Bartlett pears will be mushy.
Bosc pears have a golden brown, matte and somewhat rough-feeling peel.
 I know there are other baking-appropriate pears out there, but I chose Bosc pears. They don't have the gold-and-rosy sexy blush of Bartlett and other pears but they are a workhorse when it comes to baking. When ripe, they are firmer than most other eating pears. To test for ripeness, press gently near the stem and if it gives to that gentle pressure, it's ready to use. Ripen pears in a warm, room temperature place outside of the refrigerator and test daily for ripeness. Once ripe, store in the coldest spot in the refrigerator, uncrowded and in a single layer - but not in the crisper, they are too easily bruised.

Because pears ripen from the inside out, ripe fruit will give gently to gentle pressure near the stem. Waiting until pears are soft around the middle may indicate over ripeness.

Toasting Pistachios

I read about a technique to toast pine nuts on Alton Brown's blog using the microwave and a paper bag. Although it worked - and I have ruined many a batch of pine nuts by being distracted for just a few seconds too many - the pine nuts were too uniform in color for me (yeah, I'm weird) and I think too much salt clung to them for my taste. I'm going to try it again with a shorter time in the microwave and less salt.
Raw, shelled pistachios, pre-toasting.

However, I love it for toasting pistachios and I used less salt than when I used this method for pine nuts and I was very happy with the results. The pistachios are just lightly toasted (retaining their beautiful color) and lightly salty. This method can be found below the main recipe for the roasted pears.

RECIPES:
 - ROASTED CARAMEL PEARS with CRÈME FRAÎCHE and PISTACHIOS and
 - MICROWAVE TOASTED PISTACHIOS

Serves 6 (smaller pears, 2 per person)
Adapted from Joanne Weir

Equipment 13" x 9" baking dish, 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon (for coring the pears), peeler or sharp paring knife. If your pears are big enough that they will crowd a large baking dish, a roasting pan or a rimmed (jelly roll) baking pan will work. If you use a jelly roll pan, you will need to take more care when pouring out the sauce - grab somebody to help you if necessary.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 6 medium pears, just ripe - at room temperature (Bartlett - red or gold, or Bosc. See notes above on ripeness and storage)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups apple cider, or water (may not be necessary)
  • 8 oz crème fraîche
  • 1/2 cup whole, raw pistachios, toasted, lightly salted and chopped (see toasting method, below)
Preparation
Pre-heat oven to 350° F, rack in the middle
  1. Spread the brown sugar in an even layer in the baking dish. Peel, halve and core the pears (use the 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon to remove the seed core and the flower end on the bottom of the pears). Lay the pears cut-side down on top of the brown sugar layer in the baking dish. It should be a tight-fit with all the pears.
  2. Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes. The pear juices and the brown sugar will form a light caramel syrup. A paring knife should slide easily in and out of the pears. Check the pan every 5-10 minutes and if the pan is dry, add 1/4 cup apple cider or water to dissolve the sugar. Turn the pears over and roast an additional 5-10 minutes. When they are done, remove the baking dish from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. 
  3.  If the sauce is too thin, remove the pears to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour the sauce into a sauce pan. Adjust the heat to medium or medium high, bring the sauce to a simmer and adjust the heat to keep it at a simmer while it reduces. Make sure your sauce pan is at least 2 quarts, as the sauce may bubble. When the sauce is the consistency of warmed honey (viscous but free-flowing), remove from the heat an allow to cool while you plate the pears. (Note: if the sauce is too thick, add 1/4 cup -or more if necessary - of warmed cider or water to the baking dish and stir to incorporate all of the caramel sauce. Reheat in a sauce pan over medium-low heat if desired)
  4. Place 2 pear halves in each of 6 bowls with one pear half cut-side up. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the sauce around the outside of the pears. Top each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche and sprinkle each serving with some of the toasted and chopped pistachios.
RECIPE: MICROWAVE TOASTED PISTACHIOS
Adapted from Alton Brown's "Pine Nut Primer"


Remember -- your microwave may differ in power settings from mine so check for doneness often and remember that even when you're done, the nuts will continue cooking for a minute or so.


Equipment: microwave oven, a small paper lunch bag, water, small strainer.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup shelled, raw pistachios
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Preparation
Soak the pistachios in water for about 10 seconds. Strain off the water. In a bowl, toss the pistachios with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and place them in the bottom of the small paper lunch bag. Fold over the top of the bag a couple of times.

Microwave on high for one minute. Shake the bag a once or twice and test a nut for doneness. If necessary, microwave in 10 second increments (my 1/2 cup took 1 minute, 20 seconds in total). Pour the nuts on a plate or into a bowl to cool down a few minutes. Use as indicated.

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