Try these baked pears; they’re a minimalist’s dessert — fruit with a hint of brown sugar, butter and brandy. After caramelizing in the oven, they emerge tender and mildly sweet — understated, light and very adult.
Though quite pleasing in their utter simplicity, feel free to add more textures and tastes: Enhance the brown sugar with a little nutmeg and cinnamon. To provide contrast and complexity, include dried cherries or cranberries, cheeses or nuts (the pears in the photo are accompanied by blue cheese sprinkles and candied pecans). Top with whipped cream, vanilla sauce or sweetened Greek yogurt, flavored with brandy, to further complement their subtlety.
With so few ingredients, be sure to use good ones: soft brown sugar, unsalted butter and, most important, a brandy you really love (apple and pear brandies are my favorites for this dessert). It’s also important to use a baking dish in which the pear halves fit closely so they absorb the sugar-water syrup rather than having it evaporate while baking.
Baked Pears with Brandy
Makes: 4 servings; total time: 1 hour
Make in a shallow ceramic baking dish. Works at any elevation.
4 Bosc pears, firm but ripe
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons water, more as needed
¼ cup brandy
Preparation: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, with a rack in the center position.
Peel the pears: Combine the brown sugar and any spices you choose to use in a large bowl. Peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise and core them (I use a melon-baller to do this), leaving the stems intact. Place the pear halves in the bowl and toss with the sugar mixture until each is well coated and none of the sugar mixture remains at the bottom of the bowl. Set aside.
Bake: Cut the butter into six pieces, place them in your baking dish and heat in the oven until melted. Remove the dish from the oven, add the pears, turning to coat them well with the melted butter. Add the water to the dish (if it doesn’t cover the bottom of your dish, add more until it does) and return it to the oven. Turn the pears several times and add more water, as needed, a little at a time, so the dish doesn’t get dry and a small amount of syrupy liquid is always present. When the pears are tender (test with a fork; it should slide through them with very little resistance) and the edges have caramelized, take them out of the oven. The amount of time this takes depends on the ripeness of the fruit; start checking at 20 minutes.
Add brandy: Use tongs or a slotted spoon to move the pears to a plate. Add brandy to the dish and stir with a heatproof spatula until combined and a light syrup forms. Return the pears to the dish. They’re ready to be served or can be cooled, covered, stored in the refrigerator for several hours and then reheated in a 325 degree oven. The warmed pears, drizzled with the brandied juices, can be served alone or with a variety of accompaniments.
This is a variation of a recipe from Gourmet Magazine.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at Garcia Street Books in Santa Fe). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.