With 5 ingredients and about 20 minutes, you'll have a pure, joyful dessert that looks festive as all get out, which you will have casually winged together as others clear the table or between rounds of after-dinner charades. Recipe adapted slightly from Chez Panisse Desserts (Random House, 1985). —Genius Recipes
large, very ripe Comice pears (Barlett, D'Anjou, or Warren are good alternatives)
Pinch of salt, plus more flaky salt to serve (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped pecans or almonds, lightly toasted
Heat the oven to 375° F. Halve, core, and peel the pears. (Editors Note: A melon baller is a perfect coring tool, and you can leave them unpeeled if you prefer.) Choose a flameproof dish such as an enameled iron one or large ovenproof skillet, and put the pears in it, rounded side down.
Cut the butter into bits and distribute them over the pear halves. Sprinkle with the sugar and put the dish in the oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the juices. The pears will be ready if tender when pierced in their thickest part with a sharp knife.
Remove the pears from the dish, allowing all the juice to drain back into it and adding any of the undissolved sugar still remaining in the pear cavities.
Set the dish over high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a light caramel color. It will look very thick and bubbly, because of the butter and pear juice in it. Pour in the cream and bring to a boil, adding a pinch of salt if you like. Cook until the sauce is smooth. It will darken and turn a rich brown after you pour in the cream.
Serve a warm pear half to each person with some of the sauce spooned over it. Sprinkle with the nuts, and serve with flaky salt on the side, if you like. This is very simple but the flavors of the ripe pears combine wonderfully with the smooth, rich caramel.