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Honey Poached Pear with Citrus Glaze & Gorgonzola Cream

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Honey Poached Pear with Citrus Glaze & Gorgonzola Cream

Time: approximately 2 hours 20 minutes; 25 minutes to peel the pears and prepare the poaching liquid, 35 minutes to poach the pears and make the gorgonzola cream, 1 hour to cool pears and reduce citrus to a glaze, 20 minutes to core pears and plate them.

Serves: 10

Inspired by: Last night I hosted a dinner with a blind tasting of 8 Bordeaux wines. We had a young Sauternes for after the dinner – Chateau Rieussec’s second wine. I tasted it once and remember it having very pronounced citrus flavors. I wanted to make a dessert that would be a nice pairing with the wine. I think the most interesting wine and food pairings are with similar flavors and textures,or with contrasting flavors or textures. In this case, I wanted to try to make a dessert that included both elements. I came up with this recipe as I do many – I read about 20 different poached pear recipes from various food blogs on the web to understand common themes. Then I turned to Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food”. I love how she explains generally how to do something and then what you can add or substitute. So, I used her general recipe concept and then added some things that might make the dessert a better match with our wine (honey, orange and lemon juice with their zests, dried apricots). Then I started looking for poached pear recipes that used cheeses in some way – ideally blue veined cheeses because they are known to be a fantastic contrast with Sauternes. One of Emeril Lagasse’s recipes uses Sauternes in the poaching liquid and has a Gorgonzola mixture that is stuffed in the pears. He mixed Gorgonzola together with cream cheese to make it creamier. I liked that concept and decided to mix the Gorgonzola with mascarpone because I like its richness for desserts. Thank you to all my cooking teachers out there!

Supplies:

Large stockpot – mine is a 12-quart that was 8 inches in diameter and it worked because the water covers the pears.

Ingredients for Poaching Pears:

  • 9 cups water
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 Bosc or Bartlett pears- stems in tact – firm and not too ripe
  • 10 dried apricots

Ingredients for Gorgonzola Cream:

  • 1 cup (about 8 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola, softened
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds (optional for garnish)

Preparation:

  • With a cheese grater, grate the outer skins of the oranges and lemons (larger pieces of “zest” will look prettier in the final glaze).
  • Then juice the oranges and the lemons. (Don’t throw away the juiced lemons – they’ll still be useful.)
  • In a large stockpot combine the water, sugar, honey, citrus juices and zests, and vanilla over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  • While the poaching liquid is heating, peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. Rub the pears with the juiced lemon pieces after peeling each one to keep them from oxidizing and discoloring. Cut a small slice off the bottom of each pear so they can sit upright.
  • When the poaching liquid comes to a boil and the sugar is dissolved, add the pears and simmer, covered, until tender. If you keep the pears whole, this will take approximately 30-40 minutes for large, fairly firm pears. The pears may float up, so every now and then, move them around so all of the pear gets some time in the poaching liquid.
  • While the pears are poaching, in a small mixing bowl combine the Gorgonzola, mascarpone cheese, honey and salt and pepper and mix until thoroughly combined. Taste the mixture and feel free to add more mascarpone and honey if you’d like it to be a bit richer. Transfer the cheese mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (or a plastic bag with the corner cut off).
  • When the pears are tender, use a slotted spoon to carefully remove them from the poaching liquid and transfer to a plate. Allow to cool standing upright. Remove the apricots as well to a separate dish. Return the poaching liquid to a boil and cook until liquid has reduced to a syrup. This can take quite a while – possibly up to an hour.
  • Set syrup aside in a small bowl or until cooled to room temperature.
  • Once the pears have cooled, use a melon baller to carefully remove the inner core of the pears, working from the bottom of the pears, and being careful to not puncture the sides or top of the pears. Ideally no seeds or rough core will remain.
  • When you are ready to assemble your dessert plates, put each pear on a plate and one of the poached apricots near it. Pipe the Gorgonzola cream in a design around the pear and apricot. Top the cream with a few almond slivers. Spoon a bit of the glaze over the pear. This is not a sticky sweet dessert, but if you’d like it to be sweeter, use more glaze.
  • Alternatively, you can pipe the Gorgonzola cream into the cavity of the pears.
  • Serve at room temperature with your favorite Sauternes or other white dessert wine.

Wine Suggestions: This recipe was designed as a pairing for a young Sauternes with citrus flavors and it worked well. When pairing wine with dessert, it’s best if your wine is sweeter than your dessert. This turned out to be a fairly light, not-to-sweet dessert and the pairing worked well. The pear tasted fantastic with the contrast of the Gorgonzola cream, and the Sauternes was fantastic with that contrast too. We enjoyed this with a 2007 Carmes de Rieussec, Sauternes.


Easy Chocolate Mousse

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Easy Chocolate Mouse

Easy Chocolate Mouse

Time: only 10 minutes to prepare plus 5 minutes to make the whipped cream; chill for 50 minutes or longer.

Serves: 10 very small espresso cups or 6 larger servings per above picture.

Inspired By: This is a Rachel Ray recipe. I was watching a show once that had her on at the end and she whipped these up in less than 5 minutes. I love easy so I had to try it. She calls these “Chocolate Cups with Whipped Cream”. I think they are very chocolate mouse-like although perhaps a bit denser/richer. One of these days I’m going to try this with white chocolate or even butterscotch chips – I’d probably use a bit of amaretto when I do that.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup semi sweet chips
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons booze; amaretto, Kahlua, dark rum, hazelnut liqueur or whatever sounds good – I prefer Kahlua
  • 2/3 cup boiling milk
  • Whipping cream (plus a little sugar and vanilla to add in when whipping it)
  • Four mint leaves

Preparation:

  • Put your milk in a small pan on the stovetop and heat to a boil.
  • Put first five ingredients into a blender. Blend well – about 1 minute. Then stream in the boiling milk and blend until smooth – about 1 minute. The hot milk will cook the egg.
  • Pour into cappuccino or espresso cups and refrigerate for 50 minutes (or more – you can make these hours ahead, or even a day ahead).
  • Whip the cream with some sugar and vanilla (usually only 2-3 minutes).
  • Chill for 50 minutes. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and mint sprig.

Notes: These are very rich so I think they are even better with strawberries. Dip the strawberries into the chocolate – yum!!

Wine Suggestions: I would skip the wine – these are so rich, but I’ll add the same notes here I included with the chewy cherry brownies. I often hear people say they like red wine and chocolate. I can see how this might work in some unique cases of overripe, almost sweet wines, but I prefer my wine to be a bit sweeter than my dessert. I think a late harvest zinfandel or a tawny port could be awesome with chocolate, and fortified fruity wines like Banyules and Ruby Ports typically have cocoa or chocolate in the nose, as well as other berry fruits like cherry and raspberry and are classic companions to chocolate.


Chewy Cherry Brownies

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Chewy Cherry Brownies

Chewy Cherry Brownies

Time: approximately 1 hour; 20-25 minutes prep; 30-35 minutes to bake

Serves: approximately 30 2 x 2 inch squares

Inspired by: My friend Jeanette makes the most amazing brownies. She never gives out her recipe – smart girl! I am making desserts for my New Years Eve party and wanted to try one new dessert. It’s funny to realize that I’ve never made brownies. As I thought about what I’d like in a brownie, chewy and cherries came to mind (I love both) so I decided to at least attempt something like that. If you are a brownie “purist” I’m sure you’ll want to skip the cherries. I took the core of an old recipe on the Sunset magazine website for chewy brownies and then added my own twists — dried tart cherries and orange zest. I have no idea if the orange zest did anything at all since the other flavors are so strong/rich, but it sounded good to me when I saw an orange here in my kitchen. I might even try adding a bit more next time. I can’t believe how easy they were to make, but the jury is still out…. I wasn’t crazy about how “gooey” they came out initially. For me, chewy = great. Gooey = ?? I’m not sure about that yet. I did find, however, that they were awesome with a perfect consistency two days after making them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, broken into chunks (1/2 of an 8 oz Ghirardelli bar)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange zest (or whatever you get by grating the peel of one orange)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces (the other half of an 8 oz Ghirardelli bar broken into small pieces)
  • 1/2 cup dried and pitted cherries (I used Montmorency cherries that I found at Trader Joes)

Preparation:

  • In a small saucepan melt the butter and the unsweetened chocolate on medium to low heat.  Begin stirring once it is soft and remove from heat once it is melted.
  • In a large bowl, hand mix the eggs well.
  • Add the sugar, vanilla and orange zest; mix well.
  • Add the chocolate/butter mixture; mix well.
  • Add the flour and mix well (you can easily do all the mixing by hand).
  • Butter a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish and pour the brownie mixture into the dish.
  • Sprinkle the semi-sweet chocolate pieces and cherries over the top evenly and then push down and spread a bit so they are slightly covered with brownie mix.
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
  • It should spring back a bit with a quick touch, but unlike a pie, an inserted knife will not come out clean – it should still be pretty gooey inside.
  • Let cool completely on a rack before cutting. Will stay fresh for a couple of days (normally I’d say in an air tight container but I left mine in pastry cups in the open air and they were even better two days later).

Notes: I originally used 3/4 cup of the cherries and the semi-sweet chocolate chips and a bit more chocolate in the initial mix and I think it was too much of both, so I already modified the recipe a bit. I might even skip adding the chocolate chips at the end next time and see how they are without. I need a lot more experimentation here – but wanted to keep these notes for next time I try this again!

Wine Suggestions: I would skip the wine – these are so rich, but I’ll add a few notes here. I often hear people say they like red wine and chocolate. I can see how this might work in some unique cases of overripe, almost sweet wines, but I prefer my wine to be a bit sweeter than my dessert. I think a late harvest zinfandel or a tawny port could be awesome with chocolate, and fortified fruity wines like Banyules and Ruby Ports typically have cocoa or chocolate in the nose, as well as other berry fruits like cherry and raspberry and are classic companions to chocolate.


Spanish Almond Cookies

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Spanish Almond Cookies

Spanish Almond Cookies

Time: approximately 90 minutes from start to finish

  • 20 minutes to prepare and mix the ingredients
  • 30 minutes to chill the dough
  • 20 minutes to prepare the cookies on the sheet
  • Approximately 10-14 minutes to bake

Serves: makes about 45 cookies

Inspired by: I was hosting a Spanish wine tasting one evening and scrambled to come up with some interesting tapas and desserts. I found several recipes on the web for cookies called “Perrunillas” – typical of Extremadura in Western Spain. I have since fine tuned the recipes and experimented a bit. If you use white flour, they are similar in taste and texture to almond biscotti. Whole-wheat flour makes them a bit denser, but also softer. Almond flour is heavier and causes them to flatten out so you will likely bake them a couple of minutes less, and they may turn out slightly chewy.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (If you substitute wheat-flour the recipe doesn’t change. If you substitute all or part almond flour, use an extra 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of almond flour substituted – for example, if you use three cups of almond flour then you will use 1 teaspoon of baking soda instead of 1/4 teaspoon in the original recipe.)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar (you can substitute raw sugar, but this will make the cookies heavier, they will flatten out more, and you will bake them a couple of minutes less – see picture at the end of this post)
  • 1 cup lightly flavored olive oil (extra virgin olive oil is also fine)
  • 1-2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
  • ½-1 teaspoon crushed/ground aniseed (I’ve only found seeds so I hand grind with a mortar and pestle)
  • 1 cup sliced or slivered raw almonds
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with a few drops of water
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup granulated white sugar to sprinkle over top

Preparation:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk or sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  • In a large bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beat in the oil, and then add lemon peel and aniseed.
  • Begin stirring in the dry ingredients until a soft dough has formed. Fold in the slivered almonds.
  • Chill the dough for 30 minutes (I’ve found that when using the whole wheat flour, the dough is easier to work with unchilled or very slightly chilled).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Roll dough into 1 ¼ inch balls and flatten them slightly to a thickness of ¾ inch. Place on an ungreased, nonstick baking sheet about 1 inch apart. (Do not flatten if you’ve used raw sugar or almond flour as substitutes – they will flatten more rapidly while baking on their own.)
  • Brush tops of cookies with beaten egg yolk, sprinkle generously with sugar.
  • Bake until cookies are just lightly golden – approximately 12 minutes, but I usually start checking them at 10. It is very easy for the bottoms to burn quickly once they are done so check frequently and immediately remove them from the hot cookie sheets with a spatula to cool on a wire rack.

Notes: I’m classifying these as “moderately healthy” only because they are relative to most desserts/cookies! Except for the sugar, the ingredients aren’t that bad – especially if you substitute almond flour. If you use whole-wheat flour, the dough will be more crumbly so you’ll have to squeeze the cookie dough together harder when you are making the round shapes – but they will stay together. They also stick a bit more to the cookie sheet. Per my notes above, if you substitute almond flour, don’t forget to use an extra 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of almond flour to help make up for the heaviness of the almond flour. Also, I’ve found that when I use almond flour, I use just a bit less than a full cup of olive oil so the batter doesn’t get too runny. Lastly, if you substitute raw sugar for the white sugar in the cookie dough – this will also weigh them down a bit so they will become flatter (spread out a bit more) and may cook a bit faster.

Wine Recommendations: These cookies are nice with wine because they aren’t super sweet. It should be easy to find a white dessert wine that is nice, but not over the top sweet, and has some oxidized and almond nuances that would match fabulously with the cookies! An aged Sauternes would be perfect, but try a Vin Santo, late harvest Riesling, Muscat or Amontillado Sherry. If you must go red… perhaps a Tawny Port?

Gluten-Free Almond Cookies


Baklava

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Baklava

Baklava

Time: approximately 2.5-3 hours from start to finish

  • 15-30 minutes to melt and clarify butter, chop nuts and make syrup
  • 60-75 minutes to assemble and cut
  • 60 min to bake and cool
  • 15 min to put into pastry cups

Serves: yields 30-50 pieces – depending on how you cut them

Inspired by: my Armenian grandmother. I grew up with “Paklava” as she pronounced it. I’ve since adopted “Baklava” since that is how I hear the rest of the world pronounce it. It was always one of my favorite desserts around the holidays. Although I never learned to make it from her, my mother did so I was able to learn from her. I have since modified the recipe a bit. I prefer pistachios instead of walnuts. There also used to be a cup of hot Crisco poured all over it halfway through cooking, but after trying the recipe with and without, I can’t figure out what it was meant to do so I removed it. I’ve seen some recipes that combine the clarified butter and the Crisco. Perhaps it is supposed to hold it together better, or perhaps some marketing person at Crisco years ago told all of these Armenian and Greek women that it was a key ingredient that they needed to start using!

Supplies:

  • Damp dish towel and plastic wrap (to keep the dough from drying out while working with it)
  • Pastry brush
  • Baking pan, approximately 13” x 9” x 2”
  • Small sauce pan

Main Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 box frozen phyllo dough (thawed according to package instructions)
  • 3 cups finely chopped unsalted pistachios – raw or dry roasted (my grandmother used walnuts, and my mother has added cinnamon to the walnuts which is awesome, but pistachios are now my favorite)
  • ¼ cup sugar

Syrup Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ¼ of a lemon

Preparation:

CLARIFY BUTTER: Melt butter over low heat or in microwave. Let sit for 10 minutes and then skim creamy foam off the top and discard. If you also find creamy residue at the bottom, try not to use that part, just dip the pastry brush into the clear butter at the top. Clarified butter won’t spoil – this way the baklava won’t go bad sitting at room temperature for a couple of weeks. (If you run out of butter while assembling, cover everything and make some more or start with an extra stick – you can never use too much butter on baklava!)

PREPARE NUTS: Chop the nuts very fine in a food processor and add a little sugar for flavor depending upon how sweet you like them. If you are using walnuts, consider adding in a bit of cinnamon like my mom does – yum!

MAKE SYRUP: While you are waiting for the butter cream to rise, make the syrup. In a small sauce pan, mix the sugar and water and the ¼ of a lemon and simmer for about 10 minutes. By the time you are done the butter will be ready to be clarified.

PREPARE DOUGH: After you have clarified your butter, open out the dough and cut in half. Ideally your sheets of dough will be approximately the size of the baking dish. If they are smaller, then alternate where you layer them so the dough is fairly even when you are finished. If the sheets are larger than the pan, after every 10-15 sheets of layering, you can cut the excess away around the edges with a knife. To keep the dough from drying out while you are working with it, you can cover it with plastic wrap and lay a damp towel over the plastic.

LAYER DOUGH WITH BUTTER AND NUTS: Before you begin, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Dip your pastry brush in the clarified butter and butter the bottom and sides of your pan. Lay the first piece of dough in the pan and brush it with butter, then the next, and do this until you’ve used a little more than half the dough. Be generous with the butter – brush over all the dough, but not so heavy that you’d have excess butter standing in the pan.

Then layer on the chopped nuts with sugar (if you feel the layer is too thick with nuts, you don’t need to use them all).  Then start again with layering the dough again on top of the nuts, brushing with butter in between. But don’t butter the very top layer of dough or it will burn when baking!

Alternatively, you can layer one third of the dough, half the nuts, another one third of the dough, the other half of the nuts, and then the last one third of the dough. I’m finding that after it’s finished, it may hold together better this way. Some even separate this into five layers of nuts with dough in between.

CUT INTO DIAMONDS: You can cut these into squares also – but diamonds look pretty and from what I’ve been told, it is one of the most traditional for Armenian “Paklava”. To cut diamonds, start first by cutting lengthwise down the baking dish, about 1 inch a part or a bit less – probably about 7-8 rows. Then, cut across those cuts on a diagonal – again 1 inch or less apart. Start by cutting a small corner on a diagonal and then just keep going until you get to the other corner. Cut thicker strips for big pieces. I prefer the smaller pieces because they are so rich and because it makes it easier for one pan to serve a large group of people.

Baklava Cut into Diamonds

Baklava Cut into Diamonds

BAKE: Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. It will turn a light golden brown. Watch it carefully in last 5 minutes or so to ensure it doesn’t get too dark.

When Baklava is still slightly warm, and syrup is lukewarm and thickened, pour syrup to cover and soak down into the grooves. I have found that you might want to use about half the syrup while drizzling it very slowly – wait a little bit before drizzling on the rest to ensure it gets into the top layers as much as the bottom. You might not need to use all the syrup. There shouldn’t be a lot of syrup just sitting in the bottom of the pan, but a little is okay.

SERVE: Serve in pastry cups or cupcake papers. It will keep well for a couple of weeks. In a very dry climate, it helps to lay a loose piece of plastic over the top, but in a moist climate, wait until they are thoroughly cooled and cover loosely with wax paper to let air or they will get soggy.

Notes: I have found that when the layer of nuts is too thick the baklava falls apart more easily in the middle where the nuts are. I’ve only recently started layering the dough so that there are two or more thin layers of nuts and it does seem to hold together a bit better. I think in this photo the dough was split into thirds. The top layer will always look puffier.

Wine Recommendations: This is a sweet dessert! I’d recommend skipping the wine, but if you are trying to find a dessert wine to enjoy this with, try to find a white that is sweeter than the dessert – I love most anything with botrytis.