The idea for this recipe came to me while I was admiring a shining heap of pears at my local supermarket. Even though I love pears, I hardly ever buy them for the family fruit bowl because their ripening process irks me. One minute they're rock hard; a nanosecond later they've turned to gritty brown mush. I thought I might stew the pears and put them under an almond crumble topping, but then my eye fell on a roll of greaseproof baking paper I'd just put in my trolley. (I've recently been baking baby potatoes in paper parcels, with fresh mint, salt and butter; this method produces the most tender and fragrant spuds).
Do use unblemished, crisp, firm (but not rock-hard) pears for this dish. I used forelles, but I think this would work just as well with Packhams, golden pears or bon chretiens.
I know it's an extravagance to use a whole vanilla pod for each pear, but you can recycle the pods by drying them out on a sunny windowsill. Use them for the next batch of pears you make, or to flavour a jar of caster sugar.
If you can't afford a vanilla pod per pear, scrape the seeds out of a single split pod and mix them with the softened butter before you stuff the pears.
Pears en Papillote with Chocolate and Vanilla
6 crisp, firm, just-ripe pears
6 vanilla pods (or three pods, split horizontally in two)
a slab of good quality (75%) dark chocolate
3 tsp (15 ml) butter, softened
6 tsp (30 ml) white sugar
extra sugar for dusting
If you're going to bake these right away, preheat the oven to 170 ºC. Cut out six circles of greaseproof baking paper (or parchment paper) each the size of a large dinner plate. The best way to do this is to put a plate face-down on the paper and swiftly cut around it with a sharp craft knife.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the juice of half a lemon. Peel the pears using a potato peeler and drop them immediately into the lemony water. When all the pears are peeled, use an apple corer to remove the cores and stalks (take the entire core out, so the chocolate can run out as it melts).. Trim the base of each pear so it stands up upright. Put the pears back into the water to prevent them from browning.
Put a circle of baking paper on the counter and stand a pear on it. Into the cavity place, in this order, two or three squares of chocolate broken into small pieces, half a teaspoon of butter, and a teaspoon of sugar.
Push a vanilla pod into the cavity, allowing its end to protrude like a pear stalk. Sprinkle two more teaspoons of sugar and a few drops of lemon juice over the outside of the pear. Gather up the edges of the circle to form a parcel and secure with a piece of damp raffia (or string) tied just above the top of the pear. Repeat with the remaining pears.
Leave the pears to stand for 45 minutes. This isn't essential, but it will give the sugar time to dissolve on the surface of the pear. (At this point, you can put the parcels in the fridge and leave them there for up to 8 hours.)
Place the pears on a baking sheet and bake at 170ºC for 40-45 minutes, or until they are very soft but not collapsed.
Place each parcel into a shallow bowl and serve immediately, with whipped cream or custard.
More of my recipes using pears:
- Hot-Cross-Buns Bread-and-Butter Pudding with Pears
- Fennel Salad with Caramelised Pears, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
- Pear and Blackberry Almond Crumble