Poached Pears with Star Anise and Ginger Crème Anglaise
40 minutes, plus cooling time
This is a recipe I worked on with Jean-Georges Vongerichten (which is why it sounds so elegant). But really, this is a simple dish: pears simmered in sugar syrup that’s infused with the kind of warm, cozy spices that seem to belong in Thanksgiving food. The crème anglaise is a nice and suitably impressive touch, though if you want to take the path of least resistance (it’s the holidays and you’ve cooked 12 other things; nothing wrong with that), mix some finely chopped crystallized ginger into vanilla ice cream and serve the pears with that.
4 pears, about 6 ounces each
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 pieces star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon mace pieces
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated ginger (don't bother to peel it first)
1. Peel and core the pears. Combine 2 1/2 cups of the sugar and 5 cups of water in a saucepan large enough to hold the pears; add the star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, and mace. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
2. Add the pears and adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles but not too vigorously. Cook 8 minutes, or until a thin-bladed knife inserted into the pears meets with little resistance.
3. Let the pears cool in the liquid for 30 to 60 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, split the vanilla bean the long way and scrape out the seeds; combine the seeds and pods in a saucepan with the milk, cream, and ginger. Turn the heat to medium and cook until tiny bubbles appear on the sides; turn off the heat.
5. Beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar until bright yellow and thick. Pour some of the hot milk into this mixture, then stir. Stir the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and cook over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture reaches 175 to 180 degrees, or is slightly thickened; do not boil. (There will be a thick coating on the back of a spoon, one that will hold the outline of your finger after you pass it through.)
6. Strain the crème anglaise and put a portion of it into each of 4 bowls, reserving a little bit of the sauce. Top with a pear and the remaining sauce and serve.