Savor sweet, crunchy baked spiced pears

Entertaining

Entertaining: On cold winter nights, warm fruit desserts are appealing.

Sunday Gourmet

February 27, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

When entertaining during the chilly days of winter, when temperatures rarely rise above freezing for long stretches of time in my part of New England, I love to plan robust menus to stave off the cold outdoors.Typically, after these filling meals, I serve a warm fruit dessert as the conclusion.

Among my favorite selections are apple cobblers; tarts made with dried cherries or apricots; bread puddings layered with sliced bananas; and compotes of grapes, oranges and other winter fruits marinated in spiced and sweetened wine.

Recently, I added a new confection to this list. For several days, I've been working on spiced baked pears with an amaretti crust. This dish has its origins in a recipe from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I." Years ago, when I was beginning my career as a food writer and teacher, I would make her baked pear gratin with a macaroon crust. The pears were sliced, placed in a baking dish, then tossed with apricot jam and white wine. Then they were baked with a simple topping of crushed cookies and bits of butter.

I decided to try this basic recipe with several revisions. I replaced the apricot jam and white wine with red currant jelly and red wine and added aromatic spices, including cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. I used crunchy amaretti cookies for my macaroon topping.

After several testings, I got the flavors and textures balanced just as I wanted. The result was a delicious gratin of deep Burgundy-colored pears, tender, juicy and infused with aromatic spices, covered with a sweet, crisp crust.

I have served this warm winter dessert with scoops of vanilla ice cream and also with cream whipped with honey. The recipe yields four very large servings (for friends or family with ravenous cold-weather appetites) or six smaller portions.

Warm Spiced Pears with Amaretti Crust

Makes 4 very large servings

or 6 smaller portions

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing baking dish

2 to 2 1/2 pounds just-ripe pears, preferably Anjou

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

dash ground cloves

1/4 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup red currant jelly

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup crushed amaretti cookies (12 cookies, see note)

1 pint premium vanilla ice cream, optional

6 mint sprigs, optional

Generously butter medium oven-to-table dish.

Peel and halve pears lengthwise. Core and cut lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. Place in prepared dish.

In small mixing bowl, whisk together cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, wine, jelly and cornstarch.

Pour mixture over pears and toss with spoon to coat well. Sprinkle amaretti crumbs over top of pears and dot with remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons butter.

Bake at 400 degrees on center rack until pears are tender when pierced with sharp knife and top is crispy, 35 to 40 minutes. (Baking time may vary slightly depending on ripeness of pears.) Serve on dessert plates or in shallow bowls.

Garnish with scoops of vanilla ice cream and mint sprigs.

Note: Amaretti cookies are available in specialty food stores. You can use food processor fitted with metal blade to crush them, or you can place them in plastic bag and crush with rolling pin or meat pounder.

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