Bitter almonds are hard to find in this country. Apricot kernels, which are not toxic when cooked, make a good substitute.
Stuffed Pears with Bitter Crème Anglaise
This simple but beautiful dessert showcases the delicate flavor of the pears.
Yield: serves 6
For the Crème Anglaise
- 1 1⁄2 cups milk
- 7 tsp. sugar
- 8 apricot kernels or 4 shelled almonds
- 3 egg yolks
For the Pears
- 5 Tbsp. blanched almonds
- 6 amaretti cookies
- 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
- 6 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1⁄2 – 1 tsp. kirsch
- 3 ripe comice pears, halved lengthwise and cored
- 2 cups zinfandel
- For the crème anglaise: Put milk, sugar, and apricot kernels or almonds into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until sugar dissolves and milk is hot, 6–8 minutes. Lightly whisk egg yolks in a small bowl, then gradually add 1⁄2 cup of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Stir egg–milk mixture back into hot milk mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat back of spoon, 30–35 minutes. Strain sauce through a sieve into a small bowl. Return kernels to sauce, cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until cool, 1–2 hours. Remove and discard kernels before serving.
- For the pears: Preheat oven to 350°. Spread almonds out on a small baking sheet and bake until fragrant but not browned, 6–7 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Increase oven temperature to 375°. Using a rolling pin, finely crush amaretti between 2 sheets of parchment paper and set aside. Chop almonds and set aside.
- Put butter into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 25–30 seconds. Add 1 tbsp. of the sugar while continuing to beat, then add egg yolk and beat until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Beat in cookies, almonds, and kirsch to taste. Stuff each pear half equally with almond butter, transfer to a medium baking dish, cut side up, and set aside. Put 4 tbsp. of the sugar and 2 tbsp. water into a small saucepan and boil over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, 2–3 minutes. Stir in wine, then pour syrup around pears. Bake stuffed pears until soft and easily pierced with a sharp knife, 25–35 minutes. If filling browns too quickly, loosely cover with a sheet of heavy-duty foil.
- Transfer pears to a large plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm. Strain sweetened wine from baking dish through a sieve into a medium saucepan. Add the remaining sugar and boil over medium-high heat until thick and glossy, 20-25 minutes. Strain wine sauce through a fine-meshed sieve in a small bowl and set aside.
- To assemble, divide crème anglaise between 6 wide desserts bowls. Put a stuffed pair half into each bowl and spoon some of the wine sauce over filling.