I was recently introduced to a cooking show called, The Great British Bake Off, which is currently airing on the BBC. During the episode that I happened to watch the contestant challenge was to make poached pears wrapped in puff pastry. Granted they made a blitz or quick puff, but they only had 3 hours to complete the entire dessert. The “ribbons” or strips of dough were to be wrapped around the poached pears and then baked off.
If remembering correctly, only one poor soul accomplished the task with any dignity remaining. I felt their pain as I know how hot it can get when cooking in the summer, and even more so, when the scenario includes baking in a tent. Since it’s not summer, but instead the dead of winter, I thought I’d take a stab at this recipe and see how my outcome might fare. The show referred to the recipe as a “Mini Pear Pie”. I’m not convinced that that name does any justice to the results.
9 pears is not a magic number. I just happened to be going to a party where 8 would be in attendance. I’ve also learned the hard way that it’s advantageous to make an extra – of anything – just in case. You could poach 3 or 5 or 7, but then you might have some champagne left over. That wouldn’t be all bad since you should taste it anyway to ensure that it’s worthy of being used for poaching.
9 slightly under ripe bosc pears, washed and stems attached
1 lemon, cut in half
1 bottle demi-sec Champagne or Prosecco
1 or 2 blood oranges, washed and organic if possible
1 3 to 4-inch cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
Boiling water at the ready, just in case it is needed
1 3/4 pounds puff pastry, preferably home-made
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water for an egg wash
Use a non-reactive pan, with a lid, that is just large enough to snugly hold the number of pears that are being poached. It should be deep enough so that the fruit can be completely submerged in liquid with at least 3-inches of head room.
Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit just inside the circumference of the pot. Cut a small hole in the center of the circle to allow air to escape. Set aside until ready to use.
Slice the oranges about a 1/4-inch thick and place them in the poaching pot – one slice for each pear that is being poached. Pop the cork and and after having a taste, pour the champagne or prosecco in the pot. Of course, depending on the size of your pot, all of the liquid may not be necessary. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, and 1 cup of sugar. Set the pan on medium heat and bring to a boil.
While the liquid is coming to a boil, cut a sliver (in other words; just enough) off the bottom of each pear to allow it to stand upright. Peel each and rub one of the halves of lemon on them to prevent browning. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to barely a simmer and add the peeled pears. I picked them up by their stem, but you may want to use a ladle to get them safely in the poaching liquid.
Once all of the pears are in the poaching liquid, add enough remaining champagne, prosecco, or boiling water to cover the fruit. Place the parchment paper circle on top to cover the fruit. This step is additional insurance to prevent the fruit from being exposed to air and browning. Place the lid on the pot, leaving it slightly ajar and allow the pears to simmer in the poaching liquid.
Start checking for doneness about 15 – 20 minutes after the pears begin cooking. Of course the cooking time depends on how ripe the pears are in the first place. The more ripe they are, the quicker they will cook. Test each one. Once the pear can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife, remove it to a rimmed plate.
After all the pears have been removed and are cooling, taste the poaching liquid for sweetness. Add additional sugar, up to one cup to suit your taste, realizing that the liquid will be reduced to a syrup. After the syrup starts to thicken, ladle a bit over the pears and let them continue to cool.
Once the pears are cool you are ready to proceed. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the pastry dough to between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick and about 18-inches long. You don’t want to roll it so thin that it doesn’t puff nor so thick as it takes too long to bake. Cut long strips of pastry about 1/3-inch wide and the entire length of the pastry. When all the strips have been cut, brush them completely with the egg wash.
Pick up one strip of dough and starting at the bottom, wrap the pastry around the pear, overlapping it just slightly as you wind the dough up the pear. When that strip comes to an end, overlap the next one and continue winding up until you reach the top of the pear. It takes about three 1/3 x 18-inch strips to encase one pear. As you finish each pear, set it on a pan in a cool place to dry.
After all the pears have been wrapped in pastry and dried, carefully brush the outside of each with additional egg wash. If you want to get extra fancy, and there a few scraps of dough remaining, cut out leaf shapes from the dough and attach it to the pears with egg wash. The egg wash was my trick to keep the dough adhered to the pear. It’s not something that they did on the show, but had they, the dough might have not slid off the pears while baking.
It should take between 30 minutes to 1 hour to bake depending on the thickness of the dough. Keep an eye on them if they start to brown too much, reduce the heat. After the pastry is a golden brown, remove the pan from the oven to cool them a bit. If desired, using a pastry brush, brush each with some of the reduced poaching liquid. It will make them shine! The Pears can be served warm or at room temperature. Serve with the candied orange slices and any combination of the following: reduced poaching liquid, ice cream, and/or whipped cream. Many thanks to the TGBBO for the inspiration.