STORY AND RECIPE BY ELLEN D. JACKSON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHARITY BURGGRAFF
I speak from experience when I say that a pastry chef’s palette of seasonal ingredients is crowded with caramel and chocolate browns when winter rolls around. But if you look closely, there are plenty of local options for satisfying your sweet tooth. From the sweet, creamy yellow flesh of a Seckel pear, to the papery mahogany skin of the hazelnut, to the deep, dark brown of extra-dark, bittersweet chocolate, what winter’s offerings lack in bright color and flavor are made up for in richness and texture.
In Oregon, pears are the No. 1 fruit crop, and the state ranks third in national production. Washington leads the nation in pear production, providing close to 46% of the total. Together, the Pacific Northwest states grow 84% of the nation’s pears. Several centuries of grafting have produced some 5,000 pear varieties, but we are most familiar with the handful introduced by early European visitors. Among them, I have always favored long and slender-necked Bosc pears, with their russetted skin and crisp texture. When it comes to poaching and baking, their firm and slightly dry flesh holds its shape beautifully and won’t dampen batters or dough when folded into muffins, cakes, and breads.
Pears have many fine characteristics: a rich, almost buttery quality that complements savory ingredients like pork, game, and foie gras; a creaminess suited to sorbet; and a heady perfume that stands up to the intense flavors of ginger, wine, port, bittersweet chocolate, and nuts.
Hazelnuts, or filberts as we like to call them in the Pacific Northwest, are an ancient nut grown here (99% of the U.S. crop is Oregon-grown) and in the temperate regions of Europe. Packed with oils and a deeply satisfying, robust flavor, filberts are one of the most versatile nuts in the pastry chef’s pantry. Their smooth flavor blends seamlessly with most fruits, and for dessert-making, there is no better sidekick for chocolate than the filbert.
Because any dessert made with chocolate is inevitably the most popular item on the menu, this pastry chef knows that pairing it with local pears and hazelnuts will please everyone at the table.
Pastry chef Ellen Jackson is a Portland-based cookbook author, food writer and stylist, and recipe developer. In addition to having a deep knowledge of regional food products, growers, and suppliers dedicated to the celebration of food, Ellen is passionate about the importance of cooking and protecting local and global biodiversity. Learn more at www.foodprintstyle.com
Caramel-poached pears with chocolate caramel cream and toasted hazelnut sables
The flavors, temperatures, and textures of this dessert demand the diner’s attention: buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookies with crunchy edges; sweetly yielding, slightly warm caramelized pears; and frozen chocolate cream, light as a cloud. Each of the components is quite straightforward and comes together easily. And with planning, several of the steps can be completed while an item is poaching, or chilling. When they come together on the plate, you’ll see that the combinations are exquisite.
Makes 8 servings | Active time: About 1 hour
Toasted hazelnut sables
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup hazelnut meal or finely ground toasted hazelnuts
2 egg yolks, divided
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons demerara or coarse decorating sugar
Caramel-poached pears with chocolate caramel cream
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 Bosc pears, peeled, cut in half and core removed using a melon baller
2 cups heavy cream, divided
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup lightly roasted, skinned hazelnuts, coarsely chopped, for garnish
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the granulated and confectioners’ sugar, salt, and hazelnut meal and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add one of the yolks, mixing until the mixture is homogenous.
Turn the mixer off, add the flour, and turn the mixer on to the lowest speed to combine. When the flour disappears into the dough and it is uniformly moist, stop the mixer. Be careful not to work the dough too much — it won’t come together into a ball, and shouldn’t. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a smooth, clean work surface and gather it into a ball. Shape the dough into a log about 8 inches long, and put it on a piece of plastic wrap, which you can use to help form the log. Wrap well and chill at least 3 hours or up to three days.
To caramelize the pears, place the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a shallow, wide, non-reactive pan with a heavy bottom and tight-fitting lid. Add the lemon juice and stir the ingredients together until the sugar is completely moistened and feels like wet sand.
Place the pan over medium heat and cover. Heat the sugar until it dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high, and continue cooking until the syrup is lightly caramelized and golden brown. Add the butter, swirling the pan until the butter has melted completely and the color of the caramel is uniform.
Place the pear halves in the caramel, cut side down, and cook over medium heat, occasionally basting with the caramel. When the sauce begins to attach itself to the pears, causing them to color on their undersides, transfer the pear halves to a parchment-lined baking sheet and return the pan with the remaining caramel to the heat to liquefy and smooth the mixture out, if necessary. Whisk in 3/4 cup of the cream, stirring until well incorporated, and set aside to keep warm.
Put the chocolate in a metal bowl that can be suspended over a pot of barely simmering water. After the chocolate has melted, set the bowl aside and keep the chocolate warm; don’t let it get much cooler than 114°F. This is easily done by holding it in a warm spot, or placing it back over the pot of warm water.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk, whip the remaining 1 1/4 cups of the cream into soft-to-medium peaks. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator until needed.
When the caramel and chocolate are approximately the same temperature, combine them and add the salt. Gradually and gently fold the whipped cream from the refrigerator into the mixture, starting with one-quarter of the total. Cover and freeze until firm, but easily scooped, about 2 hours. Hold for up to one week in the freezer.
Bake the cookies while you’re waiting for the chocolate cream to freeze. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Brush the surface of the log with the egg yolk, combine the chopped, toasted hazelnuts and decorating sugar, and sprinkle the entire surface of the log with the mixture.
Slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies and arrange them on the baking sheets with 1 inch between them. Bake in the middle of the oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until the bottoms are light brown and the cookies are slightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.
To serve, warm the pears slightly. Place a scoop of chocolate cream in the center of each of 8 small, shallow bowls. Prop a pear half up against or alongside the chocolate cream with 2 hazelnut sables and garnished with chopped toasted hazelnuts.