Soft pears are a winter delight — if you can catch them at the right moment.
Too hard, they are inedible. Too soft, they are mealy enough to turn a person away from pears forever.
That was me for many years after always encountering tough cubes of pear in fruit cups. But when I finally learned the patience to let them ripen, I discovered the joy of the soft, juicy (and room temperature) pear.
Pears nearly replaced grapefruit as my favorite winter fruit, and I usually eat them simply sliced. Prohibition Creamery’s Max Sage, however, piqued my interest in poaching pears. They serve a sorbet made with pears poached in white wine and a cocktail made with the leftover syrup.
Prohibition shared the recipe so I could try it at home, and even though I started with pears that weren’t quite ripe enough, I made a delicious pear white wine sorbet with enough pear leftovers for smoothies.
“Pears can absorb a lot of flavor, and poaching is a long, lower-temperature cooking method so that you’re really taking advantage of their ability to soak up that flavor,” says Sage, who recently moved from Fixe to the booze-infused ice cream shop and bar at 1407 E. Seventh St.
You want to peel pears before poaching, not only for presentation and texture as you’re eating them but also because it increases the surface area for the liquid to soak into the pear flesh.
If your pears are perfectly ripe with a thin skin, you could drop them into boiling water for a few seconds and then rub off the skin, but Sage usually peels them by hand with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. (Trying to cut down on food waste in your kitchen? Sage suggests finding a good use for those peels as a bed for roasting meat. Unlike apple skins, they aren’t so moist and full of sugar, so they release flavor without burning.)
“The sweetness of pears works with a lot of things, not like a banana, where you are stuck with doing one thing,” he says.
You can infuse the pears in any number of liquids, sweeteners, herbs and spices. Sage tosses out ideas: cardamom, ginger, pink peppercorns, lemongrass, tea. I think: star anise, cinnamon and a vanilla pod.
One key to poaching is not to boil or simmer the pears over too-high heat. By holding the pears at 180 degrees, or just under simmering, you can preserve some of the starches, which act as a stabilizer for the sorbet as you freeze it. Underripe pears have more starch than sweeter, more ripe ones, I found out, so my sorbet was extra creamy.
After you’ve cooked them until they are fork-tender, you’ll need to puree the fruit and some of the poaching liquid in a food processor or blender. Sage says you’re looking for a consistency that you can pour, so add more liquid as needed. If you add more wine at this stage, the sorbet will have a stronger wine flavor, but you can also thin it with water if the pear puree is already strong enough for your taste.
Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions for your machine, and then store in an airtight container for at least eight hours before scooping to serve. If you have any leftover puree, you could serve it on pancakes, Sage says. I’ll be using some of mine in smoothies and to flavor kombucha.
But what about the wine you poached those pears in? That liquid gold is payment for the patience it took to wait on those pears to ripen in the first place and the work you put into peeling those pesky curves.
Just as the liquid infuses the fruit, the fruit infuses the liquid, leaving a simple syrup that has infinite possibilities in Sage’s kitchen. He uses it in a caramelized pear daiquiri at the ice cream shop, but he says he could imagine cooking it down until it’s thicker and more unctuous and then using it in a salad dressing, glaze or marinade.
Of course, you could just drizzle that pear-wine reduction (or even leftover pureed pears) over regular old ice cream, making an entirely new boozy treat to keep your spirits up this winter.
White-Wine Poached Pear Sorbet
2 1/2 lbs. firm, ripe pears
1-2 (750 ml) bottles light-bodied, medium-acid white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
3 2/3 cups sugar
3 1/3 cups water
Juice from 1 fresh-squeezed lemon
Peel, stem and quarter pears. Add one bottle of white wine to a large pot. Add sugar and water and, using a thermometer, bring liquid to below simmering, about 180 degrees.
Add pears to liquid and gently poach for 30 minutes at 180 degrees, or longer depending on their initial ripeness. Remove from heat. Cool pears in their poaching liquid.
Once liquid and pears are cool, strain the pears, reserving the poaching liquid for another use, such as the caramelized pear daiquiri. Puree the pears in a blender with enough poaching liquid to blend easily, approximately 1 1/2 cups poaching liquid. Add lemon juice and an additional cup of white wine, if you are using an extra bottle of wine. (If you’re only using 1 bottle of wine or want a less boozy taste, you can use a cup of water in this last step.) Chill pureed sorbet base for 12 to 24 hours before freezing in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.
— Max Sage and Laura Aidan of Prohibition Creamery
Caramelized Pear Daiquiri
If you’ve made the sorbet, continue cooking the leftover poached pear liquid in a small pan over medium-high heat until it reduces to about 25 percent of its original volume. Allow liquid to cool, and then proceed with this recipe.
2 oz. rum
3/4 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed and strained
3/4 oz. reduced pear syrup
Pour the rum, juice and pear syrup into a mixing glass. Add large ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
— Max Sage, Prohibition Creamery
Poached Pears with Saffron Broth
Don’t want to use wine? Try this version from Rebecca Katz’s “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, 2nd Edition” that calls for using pear nectar, ginger and saffron. If you can’t find pear nectar, you could sweeten the poaching liquid with sugar or honey. She suggests serving with a cashew cream, but traditional whipped cream would be a little easier for most home cooks.
— Addie Broyles
4 cups pear nectar
Zest of 1 lemon, in long pieces
4 inches peeled fresh ginger, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
Generous pinch of saffron (12 to 15 threads)
2 ripe but firm pears, preferably Bosc or Comice, peeled, cut in half, seeded and stemmed
Lemon juice (optional)
Freshly made cashew or whipped cream, for serving
Stir the pear nectar, lemon zest, ginger, maple syrup and saffron together in a large saucepan or 3-quart sauté pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
Place the pear halves in the saucepan, flat side down. Place a piece of parchment paper over the pears and cover with a small plate to weigh the pears down as they simmer. Lower the heat and simmer until the pears are tender and a knife pierces them all the way through without resistance.
Remove the pears from the saucepan. Return the liquid to the heat, bring to a lively simmer and cook until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Taste the liquid; it may need a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to balance the flavors.
Serve the pears drizzled with the poaching liquid and topped with a dollop of cream if you like. You can garnish the pears with the solids from the broth. Lemon peel, vanilla pods, star anise pods and cloves all make beautiful garnishes. Serves 4.
— From “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, 2nd Edition” by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson (Ten Speed Press, $32.49)
Pear-Berry Green Tea Smoothie
This smoothie is a great way to use up leftover poached pears, or even a little of the simple syrup, but the biggest takeaway here is that green tea and poached pears are an excellent way to amp up your morning smoothie routine.
— Addie Broyles
2 cups cooled green tea
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
2 small poached pears or 1 cup pear puree
2 cups berries, such as strawberries and raspberries
1 tsp. honey
1 cup ice
2 sprigs mint (optional)
In a large blender, combine green tea and ginger and blend on high until ginger is broken down, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add pears or pear puree, berries and honey to blender and blend on high until all fruits are broken down and well blended, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add ice and mint, if using, and blend on high until smooth. Pour equal amounts of smoothie into two cups and serve.
— Adapted from “The Power Bowl Recipe Book: 140 Nutrient-Rich Dishes for Mindful Eating” by Britt Brandon (Adams Media, $18.99)
HOW TO PICK A PEAR
To test a pear for ripeness, don’t press on the round belly of the fruit but rather the part around the neck. The skin there should feel somewhat soft, but not squishy. If it’s soft all over, it’s probably already close to being mushy. Often, stores only have a big batch of underripe pears, but you can speed up their ripening by storing them next to (or in a brown paper bag with) an apple or bananas. They should release a lovely sweet smell as they are entering peak ripeness, too, but some varieties are less fragrant than others. All varieties of pears poach well.
To seed and stem a pear: Once it is cut in half, use a melon baller to scoop out the center, making sure to remove all of the seeds. Then use a sharp paring knife to make a small angled slice on each side of the core, running out from the center of the pear to the stem. This will leave a clean and even triangle-shaped channel where the stem and the core had been.