I’m back. Took a little hiatus, sorry about that. I didn’t really go anywhere; I’ve just finally managed to surface after the chaos that is the holiday season. Well, you know what I’m talking about as I’m sure you went through it too. For a while there, I was buried and everything, especially this blog, was pushed aside amongst cookie baking, gingerbread balloon making, shopping, wrapping and half hearted attempts at general merriment. Yet somehow, I emerged inspired. I should be exhausted but I’m unusually energized. Fair warning: this is usually when I do something stupid. Like invite 6 friends over for New Year’s Eve knowing full well I have to work all day and won’t be home until 6pm. Brilliant. But I pulled it off and did it pretty well, methinks. We had a grand ‘ol time!
Curious things happen in these kinds of situations, which you only fully appreciate the following day. Curious things indeed, especially when two of your party aren’t expected until 11pm due to a late flight. For example, while waiting, I discovered that a party of four can (and will) eat a full pound of cheese fondue. Quite easily in fact. Or, maybe you casually count the empties on the table and realize there is generally one per person and the “official” dinner has yet to start. (In our defense, it was really good wine.) Or, you might sit down to the first course, hear shouting outside and realize, only then, that it’s midnight. Whoops. Or perhaps the next morning, you take one look at the table and stacks of dishes in the kitchen and decide to watch 6 football games from the comfort of your couch instead. Oh curious things indeed.
But back to that party. So what’d we eat? Since I knew I didn’t have a lot of time the day of the party, I hashed out a plan that allowed me to cook nearly everything in advance. I chose a few things that are actually better the next day like braised short ribs and other things I could bake off that morning like onion tarts. The night of the party, it was more of a rewarm-and-assemble kind of thing and I reduced my stress greatly. This was ideal because not only was time short but I didn’t want to spend the whole night in the kitchen. My friends are funny. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Since it was New Year’s Eve, dessert was a must. I am a pastry chef afterall and how can you possibly have people over for dinner and not serve dessert? Not gonna happen. I kept it simple but delicious: vanilla bean panna cotta, roasted pears, almond crunch. Nothing to heavy but very flavorful. And special … it’s New Year’s Eve! It came together rather easily given that all of it was done ahead; helpful because it was around 2am at that point and well, there was a lot of wine involved. When the main course was cleared, the panna cotta was unmolded, the pears were gently warmed and placed just so with a drizzle of caramelized pan juices, a sprinkle of almond crunch on top and the plates were on the table in no time. Easy easy. According to the glasses on the table the next day, a few of us may have enjoyed a fine French cognac with that course. Huh. Must have been gabbing at the other end of the table because I missed that. Good times!
As usual, dessert was the best part of the meal in my opinion. I have a soft spot for roasted fruit, all caramelized, sweet and toasty. Letting the heat of the oven enhance the natural sugars of the fruit does amazing things. Really, that’s all it takes and these pears couldn’t be easier – a few relatively minor steps and the oven does all the work. The sugar melts and caramelizes in the pan, melds with the rum to make a delicious caramel sauce. Isn’t that the best kind of dessert? Simple yet delicious?
Would it work with other fruit? Sure, why not? As long as it’s firm enough to hold together I say go for it. I’ve used beautiful fresh apricots to great success. In fact, my eyes are starting to roll back into my head remembering that one. Oh wow, was that good. Peaches and nectarines, in season, are good too. I’ve done something similar with fresh pineapple that was mighty tasty. And though I haven’t done this particular recipe with apples, I’m sure it would work with a firmer baking apple like Golden Delicious.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: MY OH MY. First off this is stupid easy. Stoooopid easy. My seven year old god daughter could pull this off beautifully. Second, no one will know just how easy because it looks rather elegant. Isn’t that what we all want? Recipes that are easy but look difficult? Third, it’s terrifically delicious and that’s something I always want. Finally, the possibilities are endless. Go simple and serve them straight up or over a good vanilla ice cream. Or make it a little more complicated and serve the pears as one component of a plated dessert, like I did. The point is, versatility without a lot of effort. And isn’t that we’re all looking for these days?
CARAMELIZED ROASTED PEARS
4 firm Bosc pears
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
4 Tablespoons dark rum
½ cup water
- 1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Halve pears lengthwise and scoop out the core with melonballer and trim up the ends and string around the stems if need be (if you can leave the stem on, it’s rather pretty.)
- Smear 1 Tablespoon butter on bottom of an 9”x13” glass baking dish then sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar.
- Arrange the pears, skin side down, on top of the sugar.
- Place about ½ Tablespoon of butter in the cavity of each pear.
- Sprinkle the remaining 2 Tablespoons over the pears.
- Drizzle 2 Tablespoons of the dark rum over the pears.
- Bake, uncovered, until just tender – about 25 minutes. (the sugar will caramelize and harden on the bottom of the pan – don’t worry.)
- Add the water, salt and remaining 2 Tablespoons dark rum to the baking dish and stir it around as best you can.
- Flip the pears, cut side down now, and baste with some of the pan juices.
- Bake, until the pears are tender, about 15 more minutes.
- Serve warm or room temperature drizzled with the caramel that forms in the bottom of the pan. To rewarm, place the pan in a 325°F oven and warm uncovered about 10 minutes.