Autumn is almost here, that colorful time of yellow leaves, orange pumpkins and ruby-red pears.
Red pears? Sure. These jewels, known as Crimsons or Red Bartletts, have the same sweet, mellow flavor and smooth, juicy texture as yellow Bartletts, but sport attractively ruddy skins. And instead of being as rare as rubies, they can be found in profusion at many supermarkets at this time of year, along with their more conventionally hued kin.
Although pears have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years (longer than apples, actually, the Garden of Eden notwithstanding), the Red Bartlett is a more recent introduction, bred here in the United States. Although it is not grown as widely as the yellow variety, it is actually hardier; for mysterious reasons, red pigmentation in pears makes them resistant to disease.
When they are to be used fresh, in salads or for eating out of hand, choose pears that are fully ripe, ones which will yield a little if probed with a finger. (Harder pears will ripen in a few days at room temperature.) However, for cooking, a slightly underripe pear is best.
The following recipe was devised by the Jefferson Sheraton Hotel in Richmond, Va., and appears in "Recipes from Historic Hotels of America," published this year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 cup heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
FOR CHOCOLATE SAUCE:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
2 eggs, beaten
fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat sugar and water in medium saucepan. Core pears and cut in half lengthwise; simmer in sugar water mixture until tender, remove and cool.
For custard, heat cream to boiling in small saucepan, remove from heat.
Place egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in mixing bowl (on top of double boiler), incorporate cream slowly so as not to scramble the eggs. Place mixture over boiling water and cook until thickened, stirring constantly (use a spoon, not a whisk). Remove from heat, chill quickly over ice, then refrigerate.
For chocolate sauce, heat cream to boiling in a small saucepan. Chip chocolate into small pieces, place in mixing bowl. Pour boiling cream over the chocolate, stir until melted. Keep warm, but not over direct heat.
Cut puff pastry into pear shapes, approximately twice the size of the pears; place on greased cookie sheet. Ladle 1 tablespoon of custard in center of each pastry base. Slice each pear widthwise and fan out over custard, allowing enough exposed pastry to puff around filling. Brush pastry with beaten egg mixture. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Place on plates, ladle chocolate sauce around the bottom of each tart. Garnish with mint leaves.