In the autumn, I began thinking about a pear dessert that would showcase the beautiful claret color of poached pears. I had previously baked poached pears into soft gingerbread cake and loved the flavor pairing and attractive presentation. I wondered how these complementary flavors would play against a creamy background. Panna cotta, a gelled Italian dessert, would serve as a vanilla-y base for the sweet wine and spice fruit.
Testers really loved the combination; it was even a hit with folks who were doubtful about the idea of red wine being introduced to a mild pear. I added ginger flavor in the form of little cookies in the shape of leaves. I used my old standby gingerbread cookie recipe, swapping out the molasses for a light colored honey so the cookie leaves would be a paler color. You may use your own recipe, and I’ve put in a link to a recipe for gingerbread cookies further down, if you need a recipe.
The game plan for this pretty layered dessert is to break it down into steps over a few days or however it works best into your schedule. I would recommend baking the cookies first, as they freeze well, then poaching the pears up to a week ahead. Two days before serving the parfaits, make the panna cotta layer; then when that has thoroughly chilled, top with the poaching liquid gelatin layer. When ready to serve the parfaits, lean a poached pear against one side of the glass, crumble a cookie next to the pear then situate a leaf cookie on the edge of the glass. Here is a possible time frame:
- Bake gingerbread cookies. They can be made up to a month ahead, if stored in the freezer, tightly wrapped. They will be fine for a few days, tightly wrapped, at room temperature, as well.
- Make panna cotta layer. They can be made and chilled up to two days ahead.
- Top panna cotta layer with poaching liquid gelatin. This layer can be added as soon as the panna cotta has firmly set or up to two days ahead.
- Assemble dessert just before serving.
Shown above, an early sketch of the poached pear dessert idea, with the addition of pastry cream piped over the panna cotta rather than the poaching liquid gelatin layer, with chopped candied pecans instead of crumbled cookies. The version as shown above would be delicious. Adding pastry cream to virtually ANY dessert is a grand idea. I decided to add the poaching liquid gelatin layer after tasting it and discovering it was too good to discard. It adds a deep, wintery flavor and pleasant contrasting color.
I cut out a leaf shaped cookie with a paring knife, making a notch in the bottom of each cookie so it would hang on the edge of the glass. This only worked moderately well as it was difficult to get the notch just the right size for the thickness of the glass edge. Next time, I will probably make the leaf cookies about 2 ½” tall and set them right in the parfait, slightly behind the pear. Alternately, you could buy some gingersnaps and use them. They just wouldn’t be nearly as cute.
Makes 12 pear halves though only 6 are needed for the recipe
Special equipment: large sauté pan, wooden or large metal spoon, sheet pan or platter on which to chill the pears, fine mesh strainer
1 bottle inexpensive, fruity red wine such as shiraz, Syrah, or merlot
32 ounces pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
1 or ½ a vanilla bean
1 star anise, optional
1 cinnamon stick, optional
6 small pears, halved, peeled, and cored
- In a large sauté pan or wide stockpot, stir together wine, pomegranate juice, and sugar. Drop in vanilla bean and whole spices, if using. Add pear halves and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, turning pears gently every 10 minutes or so. Check for doneness by poking a fork into the cut side of the pear (so the fork pricks won’t show on the round sides.) The pears are done when they are just tender. Remove pears to a sheet pan or platter to cool. Cover and store chilled for up to one week.
- Turn up heat to medium and boil liquid until it is somewhat reduced, about 5 minutes. Strain liquid, discarding solids. Cool mixture and store in covered jar for up to one week.
Special equipment: small bowl, mixing bowl, whisk, medium saucepan, silicone spatula, 6 small serving glasses or ½ pint canning jars
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon gelatin (an envelope of gelatin may have more than 1 teaspoon so do measure it out)
1 cup Greek yogurt, full fat recommended
1 cup heavy cream, divided
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
- In small bowl, soften gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes.
- In mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt and ½ cup cream until combined. Set aside
- In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar and remaining ½ cup cream. Heat mixture over low heat, stirring frequently until mixture is hot.
- Remove from heat and add gelatin, stirring until it is completely dissolved. Stir in vanilla. Let cool about 5 minutes.
- Whisk warm mixture into yogurt mixture, whisking until smooth.
- Divide among small serving glasses or small (1 /2 pint) canning jars. The panna cotta should fill the glass no more than half full. Chill until set, at least 4 hours, before adding next layer.
Gelatin Layer Made the from Poaching Liquid
Makes enough for 6 parfaits
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon gelatin
¾ cup reserved poaching liquid
2 tablespoons pear brandy or other favorite liqueur or brandy
- In a small bowl, soften gelatin in water, letting soak for 5 minutes.
- Heat reserved poaching liquid in microwave-safe bowl until boiling, 1 ½ to 2 ½ minutes. Add softened gelatin to hot liquid and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. (It is important here to make sure the gelatin is completely dissolved, or it might not set correctly.)
- Cool gelatin for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in pear brandy.
- Remove panna cottas from the refrigerator. Divide poaching liquid gelatin among the panna cottas. Return to refrigerator and chill until set or up to two days.
Place a poached pear half on top of each gelatin parfait, leaning against the side of the glass. Crumble a cookie over each pear. Place a leaf cookie on edge of each glass. Serve immediately