For Valentine's Day: Wine-Poached Pears and Figs with Honey and Dulce de Leche Sauce
By Susan Barocas
When it’s time to top off a special meal like…oh, let’s say, Valentine’s Day…dessert is too often something overly sweet with a lingering taste of guilt. That’s where these poached pears come in as a delicious game-changer. Impressively elegant when served and satisfying to eat, this dessert is deceptively simple to make. But you don’t have to let that anyone, especially your beloved, know that you haven’t slaved for hours preparing the your very best meal-topping finish.
Nor do you have to talk about how healthy this dessert actually is, at least not in the glow of your candlelight dinner. (You did remember the candles, right?) Both pears and figs are considered among the world’s healthiest foods, rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and dietary fiber. But you can just smile, say thank you and be happy that you’ve make a dessert with benefits, expected and unexpected.
A few recipe notes…This is a very forgiving recipe, including the number of pears you use. I have done as many as 8 in this amount of liquid for a wonderful Shabbat dinner finish. If you keep kosher, this can be a great pareve option for dessert, depending on the sauce you use. Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou pears all work well. They are best poached when firm to the touch, but ripened enough to not be hard. Almost any expensive white wine works as long as it’s not a sweet one. Use your favorite store-bought dessert sauce, chocolate if you must although I prefer the richness of the dulce de leche as a perfect complement to the spices. Of course, if you must make this dessert more decadent, add a scoop of really good ice cream—vanilla or cinnamon in particular—before the sauce drizzle. The whole thing can be made ahead and left at room temperature, although I always drizzle the sauce just before serving.
Score more points in the morning by putting any pears left over in the refrigerator to be enjoyed for breakfast with some good yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped nuts or granola. And that leftover poaching liquid? Not to be wasted! Save in the fridge to poach again within two weeks or get an immediate two-fer (my favorite) by adding a bit of rum or more wine to taste, heat to taste and serve as a perfect winter drink sure to warm everyone’s hearts.
4-6 pears with stems intact
1 bottle (750 ml) dry good-quality white wine
4 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (about 12)
10-12 dried Black Mission figs
Dulce de leche or chocolate sauce -- highest quality store-bought.
With a small paring knife, start peeling each pear by slicing off a little of the bottom to make it flat for standing. Continue peeling with the knife, gently handling the pears and taking as little flesh off with the peel as you can. Take care to leave the stems intact.
In a 4 to 6 quart saucepan over medium heat, stir together the wine, water, lemon juice, honey or maple syrup, vanilla and cloves. Set the pears in the liquid, standing if they will. Add the figs and more water if necessary to cover the pears completely. Raise the heat to bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes, or until the pears are tender. Scoop out the fruit gently with slotted spoon and let cool standing on a plate
At this point you can plate the dessert by standing each pear upright on a dessert dish. Cut some of the figs in half, then arrange the whole and half figs around each pear, dividing them evenly among the plates. Add a scoop of ice cream if desired. Drizzle a few tablespoons of your favorite dulce de leche or chocolate sauce over and around the fruit and plate. Add a few chopped pecans or walnuts if you like and serve.
Susan Barocas helped launch the Jewish Food Experience as its first project director following several years as director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. Currently, Susan writes, produces and directs documentaries and films for non-profit organizations. She also organizes special events, teaches cooking, caters and considers hosting a holiday meal for less than 20 to be small. She has twice served as guest chef for seders at the Obama White House .