This month’s Culinary Calendar is focussed on a dessert which encapsulates all that is delicious about and for November: baked pears with coffee walnut ice-cream and oaten lace biscuits. Each of the three elements is its own piece of seasonal delight. Together they’re a mouthful of British late autumn / early winter at its best.
Pears tend to be – rather sadly in my view – overshadowed by apples as our favourite autumnal orchard fruit. But seek out a really good British pear and you will be rewarded with creamy, buttery, sweet flesh that carries other flavours fantastically well. Roast them alongside a Sunday joint; peel and then poach them in red wine and spices; or, as here, bake unpeeled pears as a dish’s flavour foundation.
Cinnamon and honey baked pears – serves 4
Serve the pears at room temperature or slightly warm. If still hot they’ll turn the ice-cream to mush as soon as look at it.
8 ripe pears
half a lemon
1tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Slice the pears in half longways and remove the cores. Rub the pear flesh with the cut-side of the lemon; then sit the pears snugly in a baking dish, flesh facing upwards.
Now melt the butter in a small pan and then stir in the honey and the cinnamon. Pour this spiced syrup over the pears and bake for 50 minutes. Check at 40 minutes. You want them to be meltingly tender, holding their shape, and just getting a little crisped on top.
Ice-cream in the autumn somehow feels even more of a treat than in the summertime. Reaching for the freezer when it is hot outside is obvious. As temperatures drop doing so is much more of a decision. A decadent one at that. So until it gets properly cold and warming custards become the way to go my desserts shall be accompanied by ice-creams with flavours that fit the season – damson, cinnamon, the Victorian favourite of brown-bread ice-cream (which is far nicer than it sounds), and this coffee walnut flavour combination well known to cake-lovers. As an ice-cream served with the slight spiciness of the baked pears it is an absolute winner.
Coffee walnut ice-cream – serves 4
3 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
450ml single cream
1tbsp instant coffee powder
handful of walnut halves
Make the ice-cream’s custard ahead of time so it has time to properly chill before churning.
In a large bowl beat together the yolks and sugar. Slowly heat the cream in a pan until it is just reaching boiling point, then beat it – a dribble at a time – into the bowl of sugar/yolks. Go slowly or else the hot cream will scramble the eggs. Once fully incorporated pour into a large pan and stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat until gorgeously, custardly thick. Stop when it is a consistency you would happily pour over a pudding. Transfer to a jug and chill until needed.
This method is for sit-in-the-freezer ice-cream makers. If you have an out-of-freezer type proceed in your usual way.
Before you churn the ice-cream dissolve the coffee in 1tbsp boiling water and leave to cool. Toast the walnut halves in a dry frying pan just enough to get their oils going. Again, do it ahead of time so they’re not still hot as they go into the ice-cream.
When it is time to churn, first pour in the custard then add the coffee and then the walnut pieces, crumbling them into smaller chunks as they go in. Keep the ice-cream in the freezer until time to serve.
With a dessert like this one I think you need to have something alongside with a more substantial texture to bolster the tender pear flesh and creamy ice. Shortbread would be good. Maybe a ginger snap. Even a sponge finger. Best of all are, I think, these lace biscuits made with porridge oats. The oats have a sort of winter breakfast / bowl-of-Ready-Brek-before-school feel to them that is very pleasing. They’re cooked into a chewy toffee-ness that is just fabulous with the rest of the dish. And thanks to the lace effect and their beautiful curled-up shape they are as much a feast for the eye as the taste buds.
Oaten Lace Biscuits – makes about 28 biscuits, enough for 4 and more
Recipe from Jane Grigson’s ‘English Food’ cookbook.
75g rolled porridge oats
125g caster sugar
1tsp plain flour
1tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line or grease two baking sheets and a rolling pin. Two pins would be handy.
Heat the butter in a saucepan until just melted, then take it off the heat and stir in the oats, sugar, flour and baking powder. Stir in the egg. Use teaspoons to drop small amounts of the mixture – no bigger than a pound coin – onto the baking sheets. Leave at least 2 inches between each one. These biscuits really spread in order to get the laced effect. Bake for about 8 minutes until golden.
Take the trays out of the oven and leave them alone for a minute. Then use a palette knife to gently one-by-one lift each biscuit off the tray, lay it over the rolling pin and, gently again, bend it around the curve of the pin. Leave to set in shape for 5 minutes or so before transferring to a wire rack to fully cool.
Repeat the process until all the mixture is used up. These lace biscuits will stay crisp for a day in an air-tight tin.
The only last thing to say if that if this seems like a lot of work for one dessert take comfort in that each element can be made ahead of time – and that the effort is absolutely worth it.