poached pears with custard

Prep: less than 30 mins, Cook: 30 mins to 1 hour, Serves 6, Vegetarian

Poached pears are easy to make. The spices, brandy and wine make this a wonderful Christmas indulgence.

By John Torode
From Saturday Kitchen

For the poached pears
6 pears peeled and cored from the bottom
1 x 750ml bottle red wine
100ml/3½fl oz brandy
70g/2½oz caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways
2 star anise
2 bay leaves
½ lemon, strips of zest only
½ orange, strips of zest only

for the custard
400ml/14fl oz full-fat milk
400ml/14fl oz double cream
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways
6 medium free-range egg yolks
100g/3½oz caster sugar or vanilla sugar
30g/1oz plain flour
20g/¾oz cornflour

For the poached pears, place the pears upright in a large saucepan. Cover with the wine, brandy, 500ml/18fl oz water and the sugar. Add the cinnamon, vanilla pods, the rest of the spices and the citrus zest.

Bring to the boil, stir the poaching liquor gently and skim off any residue from the surface. Cover with a cartouche (a circle of baking paper sat on the surface of the liquid) and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Transfer the cooled pears to a deep dish and cover with half the liquid. Boil the rest of the liquid in the saucepan until the volume of liquid has reduced to a syrup. Strain and set aside.

For the custard, heat the milk, cream and vanilla in a heavy-based saucepan until almost boiling.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornflour until white and smooth. Pour the warm milk mixture over the egg mixture and beat well until incorporated. Pour back into the saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring all the time. As soon as the custard has started to bubble, remove from the heat and remove the vanilla pods.

To serve, place a poached pear in each serving bowl. Pour the custard into the bottom of the bowls and glaze the pears with the poaching syrup.