High Country Baking: Honey and vanilla poached pears
High Country Baking
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 ripe but firm large Bosc pears
Vanilla extract, optional
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons brandy, amaretto or pear liqueur, or dark rum
It’s January, the holidays are over and, for most of us, so are all those over-the-top indulgences we enjoyed throughout the season. Yes, this is the time we return to more sensible eating, but fortunately that doesn’t mean we have to give up good desserts. This recipe for poached pears proves my point. It’s light with a delicate yet very pleasing flavor. Some call it refined, even elegant. And, the good news: it’s easy and straightforward to make and can be prepared a day before serving. So, there are many reasons why reviewers give it very high ratings.
The recipe is also very flexible; feel free to play with it. Use red rather than white wine or add liqueur or cinnamon sticks to the poaching liquid. Want a more boozy taste? Reduce the water to half a cup and double the wine. Instead of a topping of Greek yogurt, you could use whipped cream or eliminate a whipped topping completely and accompany the pears with a raspberry or a chocolate sauce instead. I’ve even added a sprinkle of blue cheese crumbles to each serving.
A few things insure its success: Use large Bosc pears that are firm but not rock-hard. Poach them only until they’re just tender; they’ll get mushy and unappealing if cooked a minute longer. Stick with a wine that’s dry; the poaching liquid will be overly sweet with any other choice. Use a mild honey or it will overpower the other ingredients.
1. Combine the water, wine and honey in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and add the bean as well. Set the pan aside. Place the lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel, half and core the two pears, add them to the bowl and toss them so they’re coated with the juice to prevent them from browning.
2. Place the saucepan with the water mixture over a burner at medium heat and stir until the ingredients are well combined and the honey has melted. Add the pear halves, bring the water mixture to a low simmer, cover the pan with a circle of parchment paper and simmer gently until the pears are just tender when pierced with a fork (about 10-15 minutes), turning the pears over about halfway through the poaching process. Take the pan off the heat, remove the vanilla bean and use a slotted spoon to transfer the pear halves back to the large bowl. Dump out any lemon juice that remains in the bowl.
3. Place the saucepan back on the burner, increase the temperature so the water mixture boils and boil it until it reduces to about 1/2 of a cup. Cool it, give it a taste and add more flavoring if desired (I sometimes add some vanilla extract at this point). Pour it over the pear halves, cover and refrigerate until they’re quite cold, at least 6 hours and up to overnight.
4. Whisk the Greek yogurt, sugar and brandy (or whatever you’re using) until soft and smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid and whisk until smooth again. Taste, add more flavorings or more yogurt to your liking.
5. Thinly slice each pear half, leaving the slices attached at the stem end. Carefully transfer them to a plate and fan out the slices. Add a dollop of the Greek yogurt mixture and a scatter of raspberries, if you’re using them, and serve.
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds,” (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@ gmail.com.