Poire de Vin a la Normandy is a wonderful Valentine's Day dessert.
For those who don't speak French, it's simply a beautiful poached pear cooked in wine (port wine in this case), which is then baked on puff pastry.
I discovered this when it was served at the French Wine Dinner held at Manhattan's restaurant in November. Pastry chef Colleen Demsey made 65 of these ever-so delicious confections for that sold-out dinner extraordinaire.
She uses wonderfully fresh ingredients for this dessert, but all the extra steps she used also helped make it memorable.
"I've always loved cooking and baking," says Mrs. Demsey, who attended Monroe Community College Culinary School. "Through the years I take recipes that are time-consuming and learn how to make them. I like to create my own things, too."
After the Christmas rush and the New Year's parties, she and I sat down in January and talked about this recipe. What I discovered, and you will too, is that you can make this in your own kitchen with a little extra care and time. It's a dessert that can be made ahead, whether you celebrate Valentine's Day on Friday, Saturday, or whenever.
To "decompose" a recipe, simply take it in stages. In this case, there's a pastry cream, a poached pear, and puff pastry.
First, the puff pastry: Purchase a box of puff pastry to make six poached pears.
"I do a lot of puff pastry," Mrs. Demsey says about baking desserts for the restaurant. She uses puff pastry for turnovers, petit four appetizers, and savory cheese hors d'oeuvres for the restaurant's catered events, as well as for desserts with apple and pear fillings.
To replicate Mrs. Demsey's Poire de Vin a la Normandy, use a pear-shaped cookie cutter. "My daughter found that in New York, where she lives," says Mrs. Demsey. She suggests New York Cake and Bakery at 212-675-CAKE or www.nycake.com. The copper cookie cutter is $9.99.
Puff pastry should be baked on parchment paper.
So those are three ingredients and/or pieces of equipment that are needed: puff pastry, a pear cookie cutter (if you don't have that, cut the two sheets of puff pastry in six rectangles), and parchment paper.
Creme patissiere ("KREHM pah-tee-see-EHR") is the French term for pastry cream, a thick, flour-based egg custard used for tarts and cakes and to fill cream puffs, eclairs and napoleons.
"The secret to pastry cream is to heat the milk first (with sugar and vanilla)," says Mrs. Demsey. "Then mix the (beaten) egg yolks and remaining sugar separately, adding the milk mixture slowly. This is a tempering process otherwise the milk will curdle and separate."
It takes only 15 to 20 minutes to make this step. It can be made as much as a couple days ahead.
When Kay Lynne Schaller tested this part of the recipe for the Blade, she said it was so easy and delicious. She wondered why she didn't make this more often. The ingredients are inexpensive and it's quick to make. It can also be used when making a fresh berry tart or strawberries and cake.
Mrs. Demsey recommends Bartlett pears for poaching. "They should be light green to yellow, but not overly ripe," she says.
Peel and core the pear leaving the stem intact. Core the pear with a melon baller from the bottom of the pear.
Three pears make six desserts. In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients for the poaching liquid. For Mrs. Demsey's recipe, it's ruby port wine, water, sugar, orange juice and spices. Once the liquid comes to a boil and the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat and add the pears, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the pears can be easily pierced with a knife or cake tester. "You don't want them mushy or real firm," she says.
Remove the pears from the liquid. Cover and chill until cool. Set aside the liquid to reduce later. When the pears are cool to the touch, slice each pear in half and cut out the stem. Then make four to six slices from 1/4 inch from the top to the bottom allowing the pear to fan out.
Once the puff pastry is cut into pear shapes, put a tablespoon of the pastry cream in the middle. Lay the fanned pear on top of the pastry cream face down. Brush the puff pastry (but not the pear) that is exposed with egg water wash.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes in 375-degree oven until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Reduce the remaining poaching liquid by boiling for 15 minutes. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of the pear.
This dessert can be made early and reheated in the oven for a few minutes.
Recipes like this are unforgettable for Valentine's Day.
But, if chocolate is your taste, I've also included the recipe for the romantic dessert Chocolate Souffle for Two from Come One, Come All by Lee Svitak Dean (Minnesota Historical Press, $29.95).
Whichever dessert you serve, simply say "Je t'aime": I love you.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's Food Editor.
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