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Winter Pear Trifle

While trifle is often considered to be a summertime treat, it’s also a great choice with the rich, deep flavors of winter: chocolate cake, vanilla-poached pears and decadent whipped mascarpone. It makes a yummy addition to any holiday dinner party.

Ingredients:

For the poached pears:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 ripe but firm pears, preferably Bosc, peeled, quartered and cored
  • Peel from 1 orange, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • 1/2 vanilla bean

For the mascarpone cream:

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup sweet Marsala or sweet sherry
  • 1 layer devil’s food cake (see related recipe at left) or your favorite 9-inch light-textured chocolate cake
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted 

Directions:

To poach the pears, cut a circle of parchment paper that will fit in a large saucepan. Cut a small circle in the middle of the parchment. In the pan, bring the water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the pears and orange peel. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with the back of the knife; add the pod and seeds to the pan. Lay the parchment in the pan to help submerge the pears. Adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers gently and poach the pears until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool in the poaching liquid.

To make the mascarpone cream, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla extract and salt on medium speed just until combined. Add the cream and beat just until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat.

To assemble the trifle, in a small bowl, stir together the Marsala and 1/4 cup of the pear poaching liquid. Cut the pears into thick slices, place in a bowl and toss with about 1/4 cup of the poaching liquid (you can slice up some of the orange peel used in poaching and add that to the pears, if you like). Have ready a trifle bowl or a 3-quart glass bowl measuring about 8 inches high and 8 inches in diameter. Cut the cake crosswise into thick slices.

Line the bottom of the bowl with half of the cake slices. Sprinkle with half of the Marsala mixture. Top with half of the pear slices, including half of the juice, then spread with half the mascarpone cream. Top with the remaining cake slices, Marsala mixture, and pear slices and juice. Spread with the remaining mascarpone cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Sprinkle with the toasted almonds just before serving. Use a big spoon to dig deep down into the trifle to make sure you get a good helping of every layer. Serves 10.

Baker’s note: Make sure to use plenty of juice from the pears to keep the trifle nice and moist.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort, by Kim Laidlaw (Weldon Owen, 2011).