Culinary Actions

Excursions in Food



Caramelized Pears with Blue Cheese and a Black Pepper Caramel Sauce

Recently, something amazing happened: I made a very successful caramel, without any idea what would come out.

I found the recipe on Cook’s Illustrated and immediately decided to make it. I didn’t really know what to expect with it — I’d never made a caramel, and didn’t even know how to make a caramel. The entire world world of what a “caramel” really is, was foreign to me, except for the term caramelization — that I knew from cooking class, but the term was so commonly used, and so rarely applied to sugar, that I had completely forgotten about the root.

Imagine my surprise when, as I was frantically shaking the pan back and forth per the recipe, I saw a wholehearted and totally legit-looking caramel starting to materialize before my very eyes. A wave of understanding hit me,  and I started to shake the pan even harder. I remembered that the recipe suggested 3-5 minutes of this. Beads of sweat started to form on my brow at minute two. My arms ached at minute three. I didn’t think I could last until four. But finally, at minute four, I decided that it was probably done*.

*My mom used to say that when my sister and I cooked, if a recipe called for 350 degrees for 10-14 minutes, we would set the timer for 12 minutes and then take it out. I’ve progressed slightly.

I pulled the pan from the stove, pulled the pears from the pan, seasoned the remaining caramel, and voila! Delicious. I left the kitchen with a delicious desert, and the confident walk of a person who encountered the unexpected, adapted the plan, and produced something delectable.

Recipe

Ingredients

1/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar (4 3/4 ounces)
3 ripe but firm pears, halved, seeds removed with a large melon baller (or a spoon), and 1/4 inch tripped off the bottom of each half so it will stand upright.
2/3 cups heavy cream.
salt
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, roughly crushed
3 ounces blue cheese, cut into 6 attractive wedges

Instructions

1. Put the water in a 12 inch nonstick skillet, and pour the sugar into the center and bring to a boil, making sure not to let any particles of sugar escape the dissolution. (A single sugar crystal that hasn’t fully dissolved can make your caramel grainy, I’ve since read.)

2. Once the mixture is bubbling “wildly” (as Cook’s phrases it), add the pears to the skillet, cut-side down, cover, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook until the pears are nearly tender (a paring knife inserted into the center of the pears feels slight resistance).

3. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the sauce is golden brown and the cut sides of the pears are partly caramelized, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Pour the heavy cream around the pears and cook, shaking the pan back and forth, until the sauce is a smooth, deep caramel color and the cut sides of the pears are beautifully golden, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the heat. Using tongs, remove the pears from the pan and place cut-side up on a wire rack. (Have something underneath the sheet to help with cleaning — caramel will fall.) Cool slightly. Quickly season the sauce left in the pan with salt and crushed black pepper, then pour into a liquid measuring cup. (I understand that if you stir this too much, let it sit too long, or poke it too hard, you will end up with a grainy caramel. I did. To make a perfect caramel.. research required.)

6. Carefully stand the pears upright on individual plates, drizzle the caramel, and set a wedge of blue cheese beside it. Serve warm.

Lessons Learned

My dish was delicious! The caramel did end up a touch on the thick side, and a touch on the grainy side. I’d like to make it once more and try some of the techniques I read afterward. (Interestingly, the sauce that was on the pears when I removed them from the pan didn’t have the same graininess — I’m not sure if that was because of the different temperature right over the burner, having it sit in a pan for a little while afterward while I seasoned, stirring the sauce too much, or anything else. Finally, the melon balled portion was a bit too close to the bit I sliced off the bottom, and so a couple of the pears had trouble standing on end — I would make sure to leave a bit more pear at the very bottom.

Bottom Line

Delicious.

Leave a Reply