Most people have a romantic notion of fall, conjuring up images of wool sweaters and falling leaves, but I know the truth — here in Portland, it's mostly about wet skies, damp socks, and digging out my rain pants to wear on my bike commutes to work. I know that doesn't sound like the sexiest autumn in the world, but I love it anyway, especially if a double rainbow makes an appearance every now and then.
This week was the first week in which it genuinely felt like fall in Portland, with the relentless rain and subsequent soggy bottomed shoes. To celebrate my favorite season, I decided to whip up this simple dessert — seasonal pears poached in white wine, cardamom and saffron, served with a dollop of creme fraîche:
This recipe comes from one of my culinary heroes, Yotam Ottolenghi (author of the much beloved Plenty cookbooks and famed restauranteur behind London's renowned Ottolenghi restaurant), whose recipe poached the autumn fruit in a bottle of white wine and a handful of classic Middle Eastern spices like saffron and cardamom.
Now saffron tends to lend a very subtle, complex richness to dishes, and can take on different flavors depending on what ingredients it's combined with. So when paired with the cardamom and wine, it imparted an almost honey-like flavor, and gave the pears a golden yellow glow. And when served warm with a dollop of crème fraîche? There's really nothing better.
Some baker's notes:
- This recipe works best with firm, ripe pears like Bosc pears, which hold their shape when cooked or baked. Although they are still delicious, softer pears like Comice or Bartlett pears will fall apart during poaching.
- Don't want to shell out for pricey, pricey saffron? There is an alternative! On his last trip to the international supermarket, Erlend found a $2.99 package of Mexican saffron, made from dried safflower threads. The taste isn't quite the same, but it will give your pears the same rich yellow color similar to my pears. Dried safflower threads are available in specialty herb stores, Asian supermarkets and (sometimes) the international/hispanic section of any local supermarket. If using safflower instead of saffron, be sure to increase the recipe amount to 1 full tablespoon's worth because safflower isn't as strongly flavored or as vividly colored as saffron.
- Still not convinced by the merits of saffron or safflowers? No worries! You can substitute out the saffron/safflower threads with 1 vanilla bean pod to turn it into a classic vanilla poached pears recipe. Still great flavor, though the pears probably won't be as yellow.
- 1 tablespoon fresh cardamom pods
- 3 cups dry white wine
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- zest from 1/2 lemon
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- pinch of kosher salt
- 4 firm pears, peeled but stems intact (see baker's notes)
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche
- Gently crush 1 tablespoon fresh cardamom pods with a rollin pin to slightly crack open pods without releasing seeds. Combine with 3 cups wine, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
- Once the sugar dissolves, bring the mixture to a steady simmer. Add 4 peeled pears, adding additional water if needed to completely submerge pears. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer, turning occasionally, until pears are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer pears to a plate. Increase heat to high and boil poaching liquid until reduced to 1 cup, around 15 minutes.
- Spoon syrup over warm pears. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.