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Desert Island Cookbook
Of all of the pear dessert recipes, this one is the one I have always wanted to share with KD readers. I have made it triumphantly many times, but I have also crashed and burned and could not figure out where I zagged when I should have zigged. It is the dessert I made for my daughter’s Italian in-laws, who said they don’t eat dessert but then asked for seconds, and it is the dessert our sharp-penciled editor requested when she was on chemo. This gem is from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Flavor Of France I wrote about in this post.When you flip it open, it seems a most unlikely cookbook. Each page sports a black and white photo that has nothing to do with food. Rather, they are scenes of France right before Hitler invaded. In fact, the author’s family, the Chamberlains, were forced to return home (and brought their Burgundian cook with them). The recipes are mostly short, single paragraphs of terse sentences. So in today’s instruction-needy times, it would not be a first choice for many novice cooks.
A Famous Fan
Nora Ephron even wrote about her long-standing affair with this Chamberlain cookbook, both for The New Yorker and in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. She, too, cooked her way through it (I think happily, although with Nora Ephron, one could never be sure). She fretted over the names of his wife and daughter (Narcissa and Narcisse) and how they could travel together in France without fighting. I must say these thoughts never enter my mind when I look through The Flavor Of France. But we do agree on several recipes. Nora and I both loved the chocolate mousse. It can be found in this post and video, and we both became devoted fans of the fabulous Poires Josephine, which I finally have the courage to give you here.
The undocumented back story behind Poires Josephine is that it was a recipe attributed to a housekeeper of a small estate in France. The home was taken over by the Nazi military during World War II. The family may have evacuated or been killed, but legend has it that Josephine poisoned the well and was executed.
We have tried several types of pears, including Anjou, the one recommended in the book, but the Bosc pear’s flavor and texture stand up better to the intense heat and caramelization. This process will go faster if you bake the pears in a metal pan (I use a copper gratin) rather than a porcelain or glass one. You could prep the pears, butter and sugar ahead and refrigerate, but it is best if you bake it before the meal.
Now, I know that single-use tools should in general be shunned, but if you make pear desserts (it also can be used somewhat clumsily for apples), I recommend a pear-coring hook. It looks a bit like Snoopy on a stick; with the narrow end you zip down the center to remove the core line, then flip it to scoop out the central pod of seeds, then give it a twist to finish removing the base of the core line. A pear coring hook is ingeniously simple, and its old-style design has not been improved.
Among my hard-won lessons with this recipe… I found that I was dabbing on too much butter. You want to put no more than a half teaspoon on each pear quarter. I have used both caster sugar and granulated sugar. You can purchase a natural version that has not been bleached white, and the light molasses flavor makes for a more flavorful caramel. Switching to brown sugar is not necessary, and actually makes the sauce too intense for the pears. Do not use very ripe or soft pears. The instructions are for ”the hottest oven possible “. My oven can reach close to 500F but I have baked them in ovens that could not reach more than 450F. And, lastly, some hard-earned advice on this deceptively simple yet heavenly dessert: to signal they’re ready for the next step, the pears need to just start to lose their white color and turn gold at the edges, and the butter and sugar should start to caramelize. Add the heavy cream (do not use crème fraîche, sour cream, yogurt, half and half or any combination of those four). You must check frequently at this point. The cream should blend in with butter, sugar and juices and create an unctuous caramel sauce. Pull the dish out when you see this transformation. It can rest on top of a warm stove while you finish your meal. Feel free to have seconds.
- 6 firm Anjou pears - I prefer Bosc
- Enough granulated sugar to generously cover the pears - several tablespoons depending on the size of the pears
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4- 1 cup (177-237ml) heavy cream
- Peel, quarter and core the pears.
- Arrange them in a closely packed single layer in a shallow baking dish.
- Sprinkle them generously with the granulated sugar and dot them with 4 tablespoons butter.
- Put them in the hottest possible preheated oven and bake them until the sugar is brown and caramelized.
- Add 3/4 to 1 cup of heavy cream.
- Spoon the caramelized juice and the cream over the pears to blend the sauce and serve them warm from the baking dish
- I look for a light golden brown on the color of the sugar and butter before adding the cream.
- I also put the the dish back in the oven for a few minutes after a I add and stir in the cream.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.