Poached pears with mascarpone pastry cream
A recipe developed during the recent cooking classes: tiny pears poached in white wine and spices served with a smooth and lemony mascarpone pastry cream
My cooking class students are my Guinea pigs, but also the inspiration for most of the seasonal recipes I share here and on Instagram.
During the summer, our desserts consisted mainly of a bowl of macedonia, which is what we call in Italy a fruit salad. At the market, we would buy peaches in all colours and textures, cantaloupe, strawberries and cherries, and then we would gather around the table to peel and dice the fruit. Simply dressed with lemon juice and a faint idea of sugar, macedonia is the perfect summer dessert. Sometimes we would also add a scoop of vanilla gelato, sometimes a spoonful of pastry cream, others a drizzle of elderflower syrup.
When temperatures started to drop, I realized I was not ready to abandon the fruit in the dessert.
Over the years, I’ve grown fond of that light, delicate touch a fruit dessert gives to a meal, often a more balanced end than a slice of cake.
So, when one of my guests during a late summer class suggested poached pears in wine, I took the chance to try this recipe I had been mulling over for a while.
It took me a couple of classes and a bunch of willing students to fine-tune this delightful recipe. And now I’m sharing it with you, too.
Before we head to the recipe, let me know your thoughts about fruit and dessert. Is it a yes or no for you? I don’t know if this is because I’m getting older, but really, fruit desserts might be my favourites!
Baby pears poached in white wine with lemon mascarpone pastry cream
Let’s start with the pears. We chose pere cosce, an Italian variety of summer baby pears. They have thin, green skin, blushing in pink on the sun-facing side, and a delicate, sweet and juicy pulp. When the season for pere cosce is over, search for local varieties of pears, and choose firm pears that hold the shape when cooking.
On the blog, I have a recipe for red-wine poached pears, but for this recipe, I opted for white wine. I chose a local Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine characterized by fruity and floral scents. Along with the wine, a selection of spices that could recall the incoming autumn: cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves.
The poached pears could be enjoyed on their own, drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce, or served with some vanilla gelato. Or, as we made, they can be accompanied by a scoop of lemon mascarpone pastry cream.
I have to give credit to my friend and pastry chef Emanuela Regi for the perfect pastry cream recipe and for the idea of enriching it with mascarpone cheese.
On its own, the Italian pastry cream can be used to make zuppa inglese, to fill a sponge cake, as in my family's birthday cake, or choux pastries. It could also be eaten by the spoonful, I’m not judging! When enriched with mascarpone, it becomes even silkier. Follow the directions in the recipe on how to incorporate mascarpone into the pastry cream, as to avoid any lumps.
This recipe could also be the beginning of a tiramisù, but that’s a story for another day…
The good thing about this dessert is that it can be prepared in advance. Keep the poached pears and the lemon mascarpone pastry cream in the fridge. Just remember to remove the pears about half an hour before plating to bring them back to room temperature.
Here’s the recipe for the baby pears poached in white wine with lemon mascarpone pastry cream (paywalled content - new recipes are a subscriber benefit only).
Notes. Pere cosce are tiny, so they easily cook in about 30 minutes. Should you use bigger pears, you must cook them for longer, so consider doubling the ingredients for the poaching liquid.
If you need to print this recipe to keep it in your kitchen and use for scribbling down your notes, you find the printable PDF below and you can print just odd pages to avoid photos and save ink.
For the poached pears
8 small pears
350 ml | 1½ cup white wine
350 ml | 1½ cup water
100 grams | ½ cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
2 fresh bay leaves
Zest of half a lemon
8 lemon verbena leaves, just for serving
For the lemon mascarpone pastry cream
250 ml | 1⅛ cup whole milk
Zest of half a lemon
2 large egg yolks
60 grams | ⅓ cup granulated sugar
20 grams | 2½ tablespoons cornstarch
250 grams | about 1 cup mascarpone
Start preparing the pears.
Choose a medium pot where you can arrange the pears snugly one next to the other. Pour the wine and the water into the pot, then add the sugar, spices, and lemon zest. Transfer the pot to medium heat and bring to a simmer.
In the meantime, peel the pears leaving the stem intact. Remove the core and trim the base of the pears so that they can easily stand.
Now plunge the pears in their poaching liquid, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, until you can easily pierce the pears with a knife.
Remove the pears from the heat and let them cool down in the poaching syrup.
Now make the lemon mascarpone pastry cream
Prepare an ice bath that will help cool down the pastry cream quickly.
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. With a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from half of a lemon, then tie the pieces of zest together with kitchen twine and add the zest to the milk. Add a tablespoon of sugar to the milk: this will prevent the milk from getting scorched on the flame.
Heat the milk over medium heat and remove it from the heat as soon as it starts simmering.
In a large saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and the cornstarch until smooth. Slowly pour the hot milk in a thin stream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add the lemon peel, too.
Put the saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly. As soon as you spot the first bubbles and the mixture starts to thicken, remove it from the heat and discard the lemon peel.
Transfer into a large, shallow tray, cover with clingfilm and plunge into the ice bath. When cooled, transfer into the fridge and refrigerate until cold.
When the pastry cream is cold, remove it from the fridge and transfer it to a bowl, then whisk it until it becomes soft and silky again. Don’t skip this step, or you’ll end up with a lumpy cream.
Soften the mascarpone cheese with a whisk, then add it spoonful after spoonful to the pastry cream, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Set aside until ready to use.
Serve the poached pears
Cut the pears in half and arrange them on a small serving plate. Place a spoonful of lemon mascarpone pastry cream next to the pears, then decorate each pear with a lemon verbena leaf. Drizzle with some of the poaching liquid and serve immediately.
Should you have leftovers, you can keep the pears in their poaching liquid in the fridge for a couple of days. Also, the lemon mascarpone pastry cream can be kept in the fridge for up to two days.
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I love a fruit dessert--especially something with lemon. And the older I get the more my tastes prefer fruit desserts to heavy or chocolate.
I’m so intrigued by the mascarpone added to the pastry cream--how luscious!
And I’ve never poached fruit in white wine--can’t wait to try it.
I can’t use the mascarpone for my daughter who’s lactose intolerant. If I leave it out will that work too? Or would you add anything, or use a different pastry cream recipe? I can easily get lactose free milk (and have even made really good pastry cream with cashew milk, surprisingly!)
Fruit desserts are very popular in our house. They'll never replace pastries, but after a big meal, they are refreshing.