Before last week I had never poached a pear. I'm not sure I had ever eaten a poached pear either; they just look so pretty in pictures. I had been toying with the idea of tea poached pears for a week or so when my cousin presented me with a quartet of enormous pears from the Pike Place Market. These pears, oh my goodness! Weighing in at nearly a pound apiece, they were the sort of pears you want to stand over the sink and just smash your face into. Instead of immediately chowing down I asked my cousin if she wanted to embark upon a little experiment. When she enthusiastically agreed we spent the next 24 hours teaching ourselves how to poach pears.
I am a big fan of experiments that initially raise more questions than answers. Learning to poach pears turned out to be just such an experiment. Our first batch used two of the four gift pears. Their skin was golden like a Bosc but they were chubby like a Bartlett; any ideas regarding the variety? In any case, we peeled, halved, and simmered them with three tea bags in a flat bottomed skillet for about 20 minutes. Their flesh was so tender I was afraid they would fall apart if we cooked them any longer. The results were pleasant but the spice was far more subtle than I was craving.
The next day we eagerly prepared a second batch. This time instead of the huge juicy pears we opted for a whole heap of petite Green Anjou pears. We thought their firm flesh would stand up to a longer cooking time. Thinking they would look really cool whole, we scooped the cores out from the bottom but left the stems. To give the flavor a boost we increased the ingredients in the poaching liquid. This batch used 6 tea bags, a few whole cloves, a couple of star anise pods, and ribbons of orange peel. Instead of our shallow pan I pulled out a 4 quart Crock-Pot, set it on high, and left the little guys to have a good long soak. After 6 hours we gave them a try. The verdict? While the fragrant poaching liquid certainly absorbed deeper into the fruit, these pears were too firm and did not bring enough of their own natural sugar to the party. It also became clear that poached pears are at their best when eaten just above room temperature. Too hot meant we couldn't make out the delicate flavor, too cold and they were a little on the slimy side. We had, however, become big fans of slow poaching in a Crock-Pot.
Well, just as the saying goes, the third time was the charm. After two trial batches I was all set to nail pear poaching. Just in time too. I had been charged with bringing something "blog inspired" to a family Christmas party and there was less than a day to get my act together.
The night before the party I armed myself with a melon baller, my 6-quart Crock-Pot, and a dozen Bosc pears that were just barely yielding to the touch. I peeled and cored the pears as we did with the little Anjous. Once the pears were all tucked in I filled the crock to the top with my final version of a poaching liquid then left them to do their thing while I went to bed. Waking up to a kitchen perfumed by slow-poached pears is a treat I highly recommend. If I hadn't intended to pack them up for our Christmas party I would have served them right away for breakfast.
Pear Poaching Liquid
1 cup of rum
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 Bengal Spice tea bags
6-8 whole cloves
3 star anise pods
Orange peel from half a navel orange
Enough water to the cover the pears
To cook: Set the slow-cooker on low heat for approximately 12 hours. Remove pears from the poaching liquid and serve at just above room temperature.
You may have noticed there are no cinnamon sticks among the ingredients. I lost them until the day after I wanted them (typical). If you have cinnamon sticks throw one or two in the pot. In fact feel free to toss in just about anything that makes your mouth water. Cardamom pods, slices of ginger, and peppercorns would all be fantastic additions to this flavor medley, particularly if you are throwing this together without tea as a jumping off point.
Leaving the pears whole makes for a pretty spectacular sight. I did find that they were a little tipsy after a night in a rum bath. To keep them from looking like a smushed heap I quartered the pears and transported them to our party in a casserole dish.
Oh and one more thing; don't toss all that fragrant poaching liquid after removing the pears. Pour as much as you can through a sieve into a large sauce pan add a second 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar. Simmer the liquid on medium/low heat until it has reduced by about 2/3. Be patient and you will be rewarded with a gorgeous lightly sweet, lightly spicy syrup. My 2-quart sauce pan simmered down to about 1 1/2 cups of thin syrup over several hours.
Drizzle the syrup over your poached pears. It is also pretty amazing on just about anything else you can think of, from waffles to ice cream.
AND! If simply serving a piece of spice-infused fruit does not fulfill your holiday dessert desires, these pears pair extremely well with a slice of gingerbread. But you'll have to stay tuned to hear more about that . . .
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