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Poached Pears with Crème Anglaise

Available in late autumn through early winter, pomegranates have fleshy seeds that provide a tart flavor, brilliant red color and satisfying crunch. Since their season is short, it is a good idea to buy them ahead for holiday dishes; they will keep for weeks in your refrigerator's crisper. Take care when using pomegranates, as the juice can stain. To seed them, fill a large bowl with water. Cut the fruit in half. Holding the fruit underwater, peel off the thick skin and spongy membrane to release the seeds. Let them fall to the bottom of the bowl. Discard the peel and membrane, then drain and reserve the seeds.

Ingredients:

For the crème anglaise:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  •  
  • 8 to 10 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, 3 to 3 3/4 lb.
      total weight, bottoms trimmed so they stand
      upright
  • 6 cups bottled pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • Julienned zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tbs. Cointreau or other orange liqueur, mixed
      with 1 Tbs. cornstarch
  • Seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • 12 fresh mint sprigs

Directions:

To make the crème anglaise, rinse the inside of a nonaluminum saucepan with water and shake out the excess water. Pour in the milk and place over medium-low heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolk and granulated sugar and whisk just until blended. Gradually whisk in half of the hot milk, then pour the egg mixture into the pan. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, leaving a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and let cool. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Using an apple corer or a small, sharp knife, carefully core each pear from the bottom. Leaving the stems intact, peel the pears.

In a large nonaluminum stockpot over high heat, combine the pomegranate juice, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid simmers. Place the pears on their sides in the liquid and cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully turn the pears over and cook until a small knife can be inserted easily into the bottom of a pear, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Remove the pears and stand them upright on individual plates. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Pour about 2 cups of the pan liquid into a small saucepan, set over medium-low heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Gradually whisk in the Cointreau mixture, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens to a glaze, about 10 minutes.

Pour a little glaze over each pear, then spoon some crème anglaise around each one. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and garnish with mint sprigs. Serve the remaining glaze alongside. Serves 8 to 10.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Christmas Entertaining, by Georgeanne Brennan (Simon & Schuster, 2005).