Slow Cooked Pears with Cinnamon, Bay & Vanilla
'Would you like some fresh bay leaves?' a work colleague asked. 'Yes please, gladly!', I replied. I was looking forward to having access to some fresh bay leaves, but must admit to being amazed and in awe when the kind lady in question presented me with a metre-long branch from her Bay tree!
That was several years ago and I'm pleased to report that I now have my own bay growing in a pot in the courtyard off the kitchen. It's a modest but contented little plant, and has kept me supplied with beautifully fresh bay leaves ever since I brought it home.
Did you know that bay is dioecious? In other words, it is sexually distinct, so male and female flowers grow on separate plants. If you are wanting to collect seeds, you should plant both a male and a female tree. For culinary use, one plant is sufficient. Also, take note that the purple berries that appear on the plant after flowering and eventually turn black are poisonous, so do not use them under any circumstances!
Bay leaves are traditionally used in a bouquet garni to add flavour savoury dishes and the fresh leaves are much more pungent than the dried. Less is more with bay leaves, so use them sparingly rather than generously. If you are buying dried bay leaves, choose those with clean, dark green leaves that are uniform in size. If you have access to fresh bay leaves, a word of advice from Stephanie Alexander in The Cook's Companion, who reminds us that 'bunches of bay leaves left hanging in the kitchen for months may look romantic [maybe even rustic], but the leaves will [quickly] become dusty and greasy'. Stored in a cool larder or kitchen cupboard in an airtight container, bay leaves will keep in good shape for years.
I often use bay leaves in my cooking and have been longing to try a dessert with them. My recipe is inspired by Beurre Bosc pears in plentiful supply at my favourite growers at our local farmer's markets, together with a celebration of my home grown bay leaves, a good supply of plump vanilla beans and the aromatic cinnamon in my spice box.
Start off by slowly baking the pears in syrup and then to finish, caramelise them in the syrup in a saucepan on the stovetop. While it may seem fiddly, the process is worth it in terms of flavour. This dish is delicious served with sour cream, vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.
SLOW COOKED PEARS WITH CINNAMON, BAY AND VANILLA
2-4 Beurre Bosc pears, peeled and cored
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2-1 cup water or unsweetened apple juice*
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or seeds scraped from a vanilla pod
2 small cinnamon quills
2 small bay leaves
a little lemon juice
a little piece of lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (+). After peeling and coring the pears, sprinkle with a little lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Place the bay leaves, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla into an ovenproof dish. Then add the lemon zest and apple juice or water. Bake until the pears are tender. Remember, this is slow cooking, so it may take an hour or so. For the final stage, remove the pears and syrup from the oven, discard the bay leaves and cinnamon. Slice the pears in half and place them into a saucepan with the syrup (add a little more apple juice if needed). Cook gently but quickly until the syrup caramelises, taking care not to let it burn. Serves 2-4.
* I use Preshafruit juices in my cooking, as they are unsweetened and contain no preservatives or additives.
+ Adjust the temperature of your oven if the pears seem to be taking too long to soften.
The process in pictures...
Do you have a bay tree or bay bush growing at your place? What are your favourite recipes using them?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.