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Stephen Jackson: A pear-fect time for autumnal spices

Right about now, we should be seeing British pears at their very zenith of freshness

Pear & Caramel Florentine

Right about now, we should be seeing British pears at their very zenith of freshness.

It’s time to pick them and start cooking. Or at the very least pop to the greengrocers and buy a bag.

The pear is a bit of a tinker, though. It has a vindictive streak when it comes to ripening. It sits there malevolently in the fruit bowl, emotionless and hard as teak, refusing to give up on any tentative squeezings.

Then we go out of the room for an hour or so, returning to find the pear so squishy it can hardly be lifted up in one piece.

Honestly, it’s like they do it on purpose. I exaggerate, of course, but pears are certainly rum old things, and we have to make sure we find them at the perfect ripeness in order to enjoy their wonderful flesh and unmistakeable flavour.

There’s something unique about that odd, grainy texture and rich perfume, and they are so good to cook with, whether we’re roasting them to accompany pork joints or game birds or in the countless thousands of dessert recipes.

They get on well with their cousins the apples, and also with berries and spices. So, to this week’s recipe.

READ MORE: Stephen Jackson: Pear & Blackberry Croustade with Clotted Cream

This originated, as many of my recipes do, from a picture of a restaurant review online.

I knew it involved pears and caramel, so that’s where I started from – nice caramelised pears, lifted with warm autumnal spices. I like a little crunch for contrast, as you know, and as I was thinking along the almond-caramel axis, I had the idea to make a simple Florentine-style biscuit.

We’ve made these before; thin discs of slivered nuts and dried fruit suspended in a hard buttery caramel then coated with chocolate on one side.

Absolutely delicious, but I thought the chocolate was one flavour too many, so we’re ditching that step.

I wanted to carry on the warm notes of the spices, so decided to add some lovely stem ginger to the biscuits as it goes so well with pears.

On top of this, a simple scoop of cool, creamy vanilla ice-cream, and to round things off, a drizzle of my go-to caramel butterscotch sauce, which is always good to have hanging around the fridge, ready to be deployed on to almost any pudding.

A great way to use those pears as they enter that elusive state of ripeness and make a simple yet great-looking dessert.

For the poached pear:

4 perfectly ripe dessert pears

55g unsalted butter

110g unrefined light muscovado sugar

1 star anise

1 small cinnamon stick

Cinnamon sticks

6 green cardamom pods

The juice of a lemon

For the vanilla parfait:

175g unrefined golden caster sugar

6 fresh, free-range egg yolks

570ml whipping cream

4 large vanilla pods

For the florentine biscuits:

90g butter

120g demerara sugar

160g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

120g flaked toasted almonds

180g preserved stem ginger, roughly chopped

30g plain flour

Pinch of Maldon salt

2 tbsps double cream

For the butterscotch sauce:

125g unsalted butter

400g demerara sugar

320ml double cream, warmed gently

Maldon salt

Extras:

Two baking trays

Baking parchment

Method:

First, let’s get the parfait made and into the freezer; split the vanilla pods and scrape

the seeds into the bowl of a food mixer. Add the egg yolks and sugar, and whisk until very pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to the soft peak stage.

Carefully fold the two mixtures together and spoon gently into a suitable freezer container. Freeze for at least 12 hours before serving.

Next, make the butterscotch sauce; melt the butter in a pan, and add the demerara sugar. Cook until the sugar has dissolved and you have a thick sauce, then turn up the heat and watch for large bubbles to form, with a darker colour. Stir and repeat this process until the sauce is a nice deep caramel colour. Remove from the heat and carefully add the warm cream. It will splutter. Place back over gentle heat and stir until the hard sugar has all melted and you have a smooth butterscotch sauce. Add a pinch of salt and pass through a sieve into a suitable container or squeezy bottle.

Now for the biscuits; heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Line the two baking trays. Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan over a medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Put the nuts and ginger in a bowl, sift over the flour and toss gently together until the flour is evenly distributed.

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the salt and double cream, then carefully stir this into the nut mixture and stir gently until the mixture is even and smooth. Spoon teaspoons of the mixture on to the trays, making sure you leave room for spreading.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes until the biscuits are gently bubbling and golden brown all over, then remove from the heat and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

Now for the pears; peel them, then cut into 4 lengthwise. Cut down the centre to remove the core and pips, then dice the flesh into centimetre cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl with the lemon juice as you prepare all the pears, tossing occasionally. This prevents the pears from going brown. Place a wide frying pan over medium heat, and add the butter.

When sizzling, add the sugar and stir to combine. Tip in the pear pieces, minus the excess juice, and cook, tossing frequently, until the sugar has dissolved, and the fruit is just softening. Turn down the heat, add the spices, and cook until the pear pieces are almost cooked through, then remove from the heat and cool.

To assemble the dish, place a florentine on each bowl or plate, and top with an amount of poached spiced pear. Top with a scoop of ice-cream and drizzle over a little butterscotch sauce. Add another florentine if you wish, and serve immediately.

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