For a light dessert that's sweet but not cloying, poached pears are a favorite. Ed & I can tell a long, very funny story about a huge dinner party where I served pears that had poached on the stovetop for more than 90 minutes, but still turned out to be rock-hard... so I have permanently adopted a different, easier technique that never fails. (It also never fails to remind us of the disastrous dinner, but never mind.)
I discovered the recipe back in the 70s, when I was still learning to cook... remember those days, before there were any cooking shows? And most recipes in magazines called for canned soup? Anyway, this was the dernier crie in elegance at Chez Riverview, my beloved third-floor walkup overlooking the Mystic River, in Mystic, CT, when Main Street was the low-rent district.
Dubbed "Poires en Chemise" in The Six-Minute Soufflé by Carol Cutler, this is the easiest dessert you can make -- but it still feels special. It can also be prepped ahead of time for a dinner party. Unlike most baked goods, it's simple to make as few or as many servings as you like, so this is a great dessert for two.
To serve 6. Preheat oven to 375.
2 Tbls sugar
juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsps orange liqueur or kirsch or brandy
2 Tbls butter
Prepare 6 square sheets of aluminum foil.
Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. If you'd like the pears to stand upright, slice a bit off the bottom, if necessary. Place a pear in the center of each piece of foil.
In a small bowl, stir together sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and liqueur. Pour over the pears, and then dot with a teaspoon of butter.
Gather up and seal the foil. Place the packets in a baking dish and bake for about an hour (less for riper pears).
To serve, open the packets, transfer each pear to a dessert bowl, and drizzle with the lovely juice in the bottom of the packet.
[I never use butter when I make this, and often omit the lemon or the liqueur -- sugar and vanilla are my only constants.]
For Valentine's Day, I adapted this technique for Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce, from Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living by Robert Arbor and Katherine Whiteside.
For Arbor's chocolate sauce:
5-6 ounces best quality bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 to 3/4 c heavy cream
sugar to taste
Break up the chocolate and combine in a small heavy saucepan with the cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until all the chocolate melts. The sauce should be the consistency of a thick sauce. Add sugar to taste, but the sauce should not be too sweet. Add a few drops of vanilla and serve warm.
I didn't add sugar, forgot the vanilla, and as you can see, the sauce wound up too thick, because I guesstimated in cutting the recipe in half. But it was still divine, and a perfect Valentine's Day treat.