Monday, December 22, 2008

And a partridge in a pear tree.

On one of the first days of Christmas, two of my true loves gave to me... a box of Harry and David pears (without a partridge, or a tree). And they are delicious. What is better than a perfectly ripe pear during the Christmas season? The answer is nothing, except maybe a perfectly baked pear pound cake, top with brandy whipped cream, and shared by friends on a chilly evening after lamb stew.

I remember reading the about Christmas in Little House on the Prairie, when Laura Ingles Wilder and her sisters received Christmas stocking from Santa, including a new tin cup, hard candies, and a bright hued, fragrant orange. I remember that, for Laura, the orange was the ultimate symbol of Christmas luxury and it was savored and enjoyed with ever single nibble. Well, for me, Harry and David pears and like Laura's orange. They are rare, delicious, and the ultimate gesture of hospitality and holiday cheer.

As a child we sometimes had Christmas pears, and they were the one fruit in the house that children were not encourage to help themselves to at will. Rather, they were treasured. My dad would stand at the kitchen counter and slice the supple, delicate pears into thin slices, handing out a slice to one child, another slice to the next, and so on so that we each shared every pear and savored every taste.

As adults, we are now occassionally gifted pears by friends and family. But this year it looked like there would be no pears. Only last week Sam said with a sigh, "Where are my Christmas pears... I guess we won't have pears this season." But the very next day as we arrived home from work, what to our wondering eyes should appear, not one, but TWO boxes of Harry and David pears waiting on our stoop. It was like fate heard Sam's lament last week and overcompensated. We received a box from my sisters Claire and Ellen and another from Sam's Aunt Mary. The stock market may have dipped, but Sam and I felt rich with an abundance of golden pears!

After a few days of ripening, we are delighted to have 16 golden-with-a-blush-of-pink, juicy, sweet pears. The only sad thing is that tomorrow we leave for Virginia, and we have yet to eat all the pears. I am seriously considering taking the box on the plane with me as my personal item to tuck under my seat during the flight. These pears are too good to waste. Now, normally I would not suggest eating these pears any way except for raw and natural and straight from the cutting board as the juice drips down your fingers. Yet through the decadence of abundence, I was able to use a few of these treasured fruits to make a classicly french dessert that reminds me of my own family's Chirstmas in Colorado.

The cake is rich, not too sweet, and very sophisticated for the holidays. Sugar, brandy, and carefully arranged pears on the bottom of the pan mean a carmelized and beautiful presentation when you flipped the dessert "upside down" on your serving platter. I alway, ALWAYS suggest real, lightly sweetened vanilla whiped cream with a touch of brandy as the garnish. Enjoy this as part of your Christmas Eve dessert buffet, or even for brunch on Christmas morning. Above all, relish the opportunity to share such a delicate and delicous treat with those you love.

Quatre-Quarts aux Poires
Pear Pound Cake
from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, with notations by my father Mike

1/2 cup vanilla sugar*
2-3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered with each quarter cut into 4 slices
2 tablespoons pear brandy or eau-de-vie (water of life! I just can't help myself)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (about 68 degrees is what I use)
2 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup (90grams) plain cake flour

*vanilla sugar split 4 vanilla beans lengthwise, put in sealed container with 4 cups sugar, combine, seal and allow to sit for several weeks (I know this won't help you today, so I just add a little vanilla to the bottom of the pan prior to putting in the sugar and add a bit to the batter.

Heat oven to 325 (165 C). Butter 10.5 spring form pan, sprinkle with 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Arrange pear slices in a circle overlapping slightly. Make it look pretty and sprinkle with 1 tbsp pear brandy

Cream butter and remaining 7 tbsp sugar in a mixer, add eggs one at a time, add flour until just combined, add remaining 1 tbsp brandy.

Spoon batter over pears in thin even layer (don't worry if it doesn't completely cover the pears, it will spread out as it bakes, and worry ruins the cake). Bake until brown and pretty, about 45 minutes

Serve as is or with a dollop of whipped creme fraiche.

Look to heaven and thank the good Lord that you get to eat something so delicious and for the stinky French for doing such great recipes and that your father is such a good guy to type this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a fun blog this was to read!! And I love your serving dish!! xoxo