I don’t like pie.
There I said it.
That just may condemn me as un-American in some circles, but it’s the truth. By other tasters’ accounts, I'm privileged to know many excellent pie makers. So it’s not that I’ve not been exposed to good pie throughout in my life. I would just rather eat a bowl full of the spiced fruit with a soothing crème anglaise than have it surrounded by pastry.
I am sure my mother-in-law – a masterful pie maker who has searched several continents for the right type of lard for her crust – will make what has become her Thanksgiving standard: pumpkin chiffon pie. And my purist pumpkin freak of a younger brother will expect one of the plain Jane variety.
But since this is only the second time ever that I will be hosting Thanksgiving at my very own table, this is what I will be serving to myself, if to no one else.
Test Kitchen Notes
Who knew ginger and pears complemented each other so well? Poach the fruit in lots of ginger beer, and get ready for more layers of ginger flavor from ginger snaps, crystallized bits and the fresh root itself. Everything works together here and highlights the mild sweetness of the pears while adding depth of flavor, a silky creme anglaise and crunchy topping to boot. - broccolirose —broccolirose
four large servings, or eight smaller ones
4 semi-ripe Bosc pears
4 12-ounce bottles of potent Ginger Beer (I used Reeds Extra Ginger Brew)
4, ¼ inch disks of peeled, raw ginger
The zest of one lemon, cut into strips that can easily be fished out of the poaching liquid
2 cups half and half
2 tablespoons honey
½ vanilla bean
3 egg yolks
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup pecans, toasted
4 high quality ginger snaps (I used DeBeukelaer Corp. Speculaas Crisps Belgian Ginger Cookies)
Peel the pears, cut them from top to bottom (keep the stem on one half, if you can, for presentation’s sake) and core them. I like to dig a bigger core hole than necessary as it makes a ready-made receptacle for the crumble topping when you serve them.
Pour the ginger beer in a pan big enough to hold the pears in a single layer and add the raw ginger and lemon zest. Arrange pears cut side down in the poaching liquid. To keep the pears from floating, I invert a pan cover that is slightly smaller than the pan I am using to poach the pears and place it on top of the poaching pears. Get the liquid to a slow simmer and poach the pears until they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. For large pears, that takes 25-30 minutes.
When the pears are done, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool completely.
Use a slotted spoon to fish out the lemon zest and ginger and put the poaching liquid back on medium low heat to reduce to about ¾ of a cup of spicy ginger syrup. Strain the reduced syrup into a pitcher.
To make the crème anglaise custard, pour the half and half and honey in the top pan of a double boiler. Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape its contents out of the pod. Place both the vanilla pod and its seeds into the cream mixture. With water in the bottom of the double boiler, put the pan on the heat and bring it up in temperature to just below a simmer. In a separate metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. When the cream is hot enough, slowly whisk 3-4 tablespoons of the hot cream into the egg mixture. Add another 3-4 tablespoons of cream to the egg mixture continuously whisking. Whisk the thinned egg mixture into the hot cream mixture and put the combination over the double-boiler heat until it reaches about 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer. When it hit that mark, strain the mixture through a sieve into a pitcher and set aside to cool.
Pulse the pecans a few times in a food processor. Add the ginger snaps and pulse a few more times until they are broken down. Stir in the crystallized ginger and cranberries.
To assemble, pour a bit of syrup on the plate. Arrange one or two pear halves on top of it and pour a bit more syrup over the halves to give them a nice sheen. Generously fill the core holes with the crumble mixture. Either serve each plate with a small pitcher of custard, or pour a good amount over the pears before serving.
I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.