Pears in caramel, effortlessly

Pears are the sort of raw ingredient that should be handed out as a confidence booster to anybody who claims an inability to cook. Not eggs or bacon, not spuds, not steak. Pears, especially at the peak of their season.

Think about it for a moment. Those who claim a lack of interest, understanding or care about cooking often put out news bulletins claiming: ‘All I can cook is bacon and eggs.’ I’d lay odds on that.

The truth is that of all the so-called simple dishes, bacon and eggs may well be the most difficult, marginally ahead of steak. If you don’t know what you are doing, how can you be sure the yolk of the egg is perfect, still in its runny state, but firm and warm, while the white — in all its forms — is set but not rubbery? And while you are making sure about the egg, what about the bacon? Crisp or not crisp, fat attached or not, oil drained or left to rumble about in your tummy?

Scrambled eggs you say? With curds, or smooth and creamy? An omelette, then. Okay, hard in the middle, or soft and gooey? Cooking eggs is a bit like practising a bad backhand. If you don’t know how to do it in the beginning, all the practice/usage in the world just perfects an imperfection.

But pears? Any mug can cook them if you remember one key point. Taste them when they are perfectly ripe (the best place for this is in a warm bath), and don’t alter that gorgeous, natural, juicy, soft, sweet flavour. Just warm that through; or cook tough, cold store pears until they attain that same delicious texture.

But even if you slaughter pears and leave them in a mushy mess, you can whizz them up with a little sugar and end up with a delicious sauce, or, if you have the equipment, a sorbet.

1 pear per person — William pears are great, but choose the variety which is at its best, and at the best value.

juice of 1 lemon 50g sugar

½ cup best muscat (this much for two people)


Core and peel the pears, halve them, and toss the pieces in the lemon juice to stop them discolouring.


Gently melt the sugar in half of the muscat, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar has melted, allow the mix to cook vigorously, still stirring, on a medium flame, until the bubbles are large and the mix is full of life.


Remove from heat and add the rest of the muscat — gently, because it could spurt. Repeat as above, until the large bubbles appear again. Keep cooking for a minute or so, and then pour over, and then spoon over, the pears.


Heat the oven to flat out.


Place the pears core-side down in a pan which can go into the oven and pour over half the muscat syrup again. (You should use a pan only slightly larger than all the pears.) Heat gently on top of the stove until the syrup boils, then put in the oven for 5 minutes.


Remove and spoon some of the syrup from the pan — now enriched by some of the pear juice – and then add the rest of the muscat syrup. Put back into the oven for another five minute burst.


That’s it. Simple as poaching an egg. Serve simply, simply, in the middle of a white plate, sauce spooned over and about, and with some rich cream somewhere handy.


It’s likely there will be some sticky syrup left in the pan. Wipe it up with your fingers.

If you cook the pears similarly, and place the cooked and soused version on a slice of puff pastry, or puff pastry cut into the shape of a pear, it will make for a brilliantly simple, yet stunning dessert. If you make this dish, it is usual to sit the pear in a little pastry cream, flavoured (in paradise) by eau de vie de poire; in a less than perfect world, flavour it with vanilla beans, or muscat, or port. Brush the pastry with a mix of milk and egg yolk, and bake it in a 200°C oven for 25–30 minutes. You can also pre-bake the pastry, slice it in two, and serve the pears, sliced, in between two layers of the baked pastry, like a pastry sandwich.

Remember, too, that pears in season are ideal partners for a dry cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano.

WINE : This one is easy: just a glass of the best Rutherglen muscat you can find.