*This post came up here a lee-tle late. I was a bit under the weather.*
So I know it’s Halloween and everyone is obsessed with all things scary and icky. I love the idea but I don’t do scary or icky very well. I’m hopeless. I’d be like that colleague of mine at work who tried to prank me with a wormy apple but dissolved into helpless laughter before he got four words into his prank.
I also don’t get the yucky food schtick. Gross food, for me, is sacrilege. I’m going to grow up someday to be the mom who’s a real party pooper in this regard. I cannot get behind “blood-and-guts” potatoes or “barf soup” or even “jellyworms”. No, no and no! Why go through this when you can freak a kid out simply by dishing them a bowl of spinach soup? I did once though it was not my intention. Suffice to say that my nephew runs a mile away when he sees anything green in my hands.
So believe me when I say it was not my intention to mess up the plating of this dessert that I want to tell you about today. Really it wasn’t. My attempts at emulating Pollock were ill-fated from the start, as they would be since I am in fact, a far cry from absolutely any kind of painter. Sad really, because the dessert is fabulous, easy and divinely delicious. Try not to be put off by the drowning-in-chocolate sauce scenario. The gremlins of Halloween are cackling with glee somewhere at the irony.
I found this recipe in one of my perennial reads, Nigel Slater’s Real Food. If I ever fall into the depths of depression, I have left standing instructions that I must be forced to read Nigel Slater, along with every copy of Wodehouse that I own, with a dose of Bill Waterson for good measure. Also prescribed are marathon sittings of Friends, Spin City and Will and Grace. But I don’t think it will ever come to that because Nigel Slater will be quite enough. His are words that balance conservation with excess, and he proposes both with equal fervour. While I mostly follow the dictates of my own scattered palette when it comes to things I like, he is the only recipe writer who has a good chance of actually having me follow him down his rabbit hole, in the curious Alice way, not because I have to, but because I couldn’t resist. In the delectable chapter on chocolate in this collection lies this elfin recipe, with about the same amount of magic you would expect from a mythical woodland creature. Dazzled by the showings of pie and soufflé around it, you’d be tempted to give this one a miss. But you shouldn’t, it wouldn’t be there unless it belonged.
My impetus to try this was the acquisition of a bar of the exquisite Valrhona Manjari (a chocolate lover’s high, this) and a few in-season-yet-not-quite-all-there pears. The pears clinched it really. Never has there been a fruit better suited to be subjected to the treatment prescribed here. Having had a perfect pear possibly once in my life, I’m always hoping to repeat that moment of sweet bliss but am inevitably disappointed. The perfect pear is such a rare thing and if you blink, it will go from raw and woody to over-ripe and fermented. My apartment is always bucking the time-space continuum when it comes to produce going from raw to so-done-last-week… pears don’t stand even an unsporting chance.
To go along with the pears, you have this luscious chocolate. Of course any chocolate will do, but Valrhona is something special. That I will never be a Valrhona virgin again is sad, sad thing. I bought the bar to cook with but Amey and I ended up eating at least a quarter of the bar just so. This chocolate is one of those smooth melters that slowly melt into a rich, unctuous puddle of yum. They pair fabulously with the pears.
Pears with Florentine Cream
adapted from Nigel Slater’s Real Food
Pears – 3, of medium size, cut into halves and cored
Water – about 4 cups
Lemon juice – of half a lemon
Vanilla extract – 1 tsp plus a few drops for the cream
Whipping Cream – about half a cup
Sugar – 1/2 cup
Cinnamon – a couple of sticks
Green cardamom – a couple of pods
Amaretti or similar biscuits, amount to your liking– Heat the water, then dissolve the sugar in it to make a simple syrup. To the syrup, add the cardamom, cinnamon, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.
– Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and cover to poach gently until the pears are soft but still hold their shape. A knife should be able to run through without resistance. When they are done, pick them out of the liquid and let cool on the counter. When they are no longer warm, put them in the fridge to chill for about a half hour.
– Heat some water in a pot. Cut some pieces of the chocolate and place them in a bowl that sits above the pot of water like a double boiler. Gently let the steam melt the chocolate into liquid.
– In a bowl, add a few drops of vanilla essence to the cream and whip until it just barely holds its shape.
– Pound the amaretti into small gravel.
– To assemble, place the pear halves on a plate cut side up and dollop a decent amount of whipped cream into the cored hollow. Drizzle as much chocolate as you like onto the cream. Sprinkle some of the bashed-up amaretti on top. Serve immediately.
Simple yet unbelievably satisfying, this dessert is a cinch to make. I may never have an uncooked pear again. Simply poaching in a syrup for fifteen odd minutes or so turns the pears into something sublime. Even my pear-hating husband turned into a lover. The drizzled melted chocolate solidifies into small bits all over and there is a lovely textural contrast from the amaretti. Keep decent chunks of these. For the first plate you see above, we almost ground them into powder and it was lost in dessert somewhere. Coarse gravel is a much better textural offset. Nigel Slater doesn’t ask for the spices in the syrup. He does ask for a vanilla bean which I did not have, hence the spice addition. It worked well enough. Boiling brings out delicate hints of spice that more robust cooking methods run amok through. A little orange or rose water might bring complement this dish well too.
Though this ended up looking like a Halloween scarefest, it really was anything but. Your kids might prefer it in its messy version even, but it’s an excellent adult dessert. When you’re scrambling around cooking for a party, it would be one of the easiest desserts to serve. You could dish out some vanilla ice-cream instead of the whipped cream if you prefer…and make lots. Your guests will thank you.