A Pear Rant – Revisited

Pear Dumpling

Sometimes I just don’t know when to leave well enough alone.

Take my pear dumplings, for example. Please.

They were adaptations of a perfectly lovely Apple Dumpling recipe from a Napa cooking class I attended at Copia: American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts (surely a name chosen by committee – and, sadly, that place has closed).

The Copia apple dumpling recipe was a wonderful little number, stuffed with a fruit-and-nut mixture, wrapped in pastry, floated in a cinnamon sauce and topped with creme anglaise. What’s not to love about that?

Nothing.

Much.

Except I couldn’t leave it alone. So I experimented on some friends who came over for dinner recently by swapping the apples for pears. Instead of making the pastry, I used thawed, store-bought packaged puff pastry. Then I skipped the creme anglaise because I ran out of time. Ditto with the cinnamon-sauce moat.

But nobody complained when those beautiful pears, clothed in browned, flaky puff pastry, were served with a dollop of whipped cream, and the topper, my Caramel Whiskey Sauce. As an aside, that Caramel Whiskey Sauce is one of my best creations, if I do say so myself. It’s so good that I really should stop typing this very minute and see about bottling, marketing and selling the stuff.

Everyone raved about my Pear Dumplings.

But I couldn’t stop there. I came across a recipe for pears poached in red wine, with a photo of a gorgeously translucent pear, alone on a plate. But it looked a little – uh – lacking.

Behold, my idea for the Poached Pear Dumpling was born. My conception had the pear poached in amaretto instead of wine. And I’d stuff it with dried fruits. And I’d top it with my Caramel Whiskey Sauce.

I started with the most adorable sack of Anjou pears that I bought at the Grocery Outlet in Redding. (I should be on commission with the Grocery Outlet, and Cash and Carry, for that matter, too.)

I poached the peeled, cored pears in a syrupy mixture of apple juice, amaretto, sugar and a cinnamon stick. I towel dried them, then let them air dry for a couple of hours. Those pears were so pretty.

Then I stuffed them (from the bottom, so I could retain their cute stems) and wrapped each pear in a puff pastry jacket, topped with a dough-leaf hat. I brushed them with an egg wash for shine, and popped them in the oven.

I was alarmed when I peeked in the oven about 20 minutes later. The pears had shed their puff pastry outerwear into a disc beneath them that resembled a child’s ceramic’s class ashtray, or a discarded knee-high stocking, or something found on a circus floor after the elephant show.

In some places, the puff pastry clung stubbornly to the pears’ bodies in bits and pieces, which looked a little like peeling skin after a bad sunburn.

I immediately knew what had happened. While baking, the poached pears released their inner moisture to the outer pastry, causing it to let go and slide down.

That’s why, when my guests arrived, I was rolling out pie crust, cutting it in circles, wrapping each pear (now much drier, thanks to their earlier baking), brushing them with egg wash and putting them in the oven.

The pears turned out delicious. Especially with seconds, thirds, and fourths on the Caramel Whiskey Sauce.

Here’s the updated recipe, sans soggy crusts. Just the basics. Just beautiful. What a relief.

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Doni’s Pear Dumplings

8 small pears or 6 large ones (or apples)
*1 package store-bought puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten and thinned with a few drops of water or cream

Filling

2/3 cup favorite dried fruits, chopped (apricots, raisins, dates, currents, etc.)
1/4 cup favorite nuts, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup oats
4 T. soft butter
1 T. total of combined favorite ground spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, etc.)
* May also use favorite pie dough, or store-bought, boxed pie dough

Blend the filling mixture. Set aside.

Roll out all the puff pastry into a large, thin sheet. (If it’s too thick, the dumplings will be too doughy. But don’t roll it so thin that holes appear.) Cover with a towel.

Peel the pears. Then core the pears, but leave a large enough opening for the filling, but first consider: If you want to retain the stem (looks pretty) core the pears from the bottom. But, if your pears lack stems, or if you want to core from the top and remove the stem, you can always use a piece of cinnamon stick as a faux stem.

With a tiny spoon, fill the cored pears’ cavities with the fruit filling, packing well.

Set one pear on a section of the rolled puff pastry. Cut a wide circle around it, like a Christmas tree skirt, large enough to come up over the pear’s sides. Firmly press the dough pleats into place with your fingers. Make sure that the dough is well secured, especially at the top, so it doesn’t slide down during baking.  Note: The first dumpling will tell you a lot about how big a pastry circle to cut. You’ll see. It’s simple.

Set the pear in a well-greased baking dish (or if you have parchment paper, that’s even better).

Repeat with all the pears and dough. Use dough scraps to cut out leaves. Brush the pastry-covered pears with the beaten egg. Brush the leaves with the egg, then press into place on the pears.

Bake pears on the middle rack of a pre-heated 400-degree oven just long enough to set the pastry, about 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the pears feel soft. (A toothpick will tell the tale.)

Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream. (Or with whipped cream, or caramel, cinnamon or whiskey sauce.)

This best-of column first appeared on anewscafe.com in November, 2007, way back when about 2,000 people read this site, far fewer than our nearly 60,000 unique visitors. Enough bragging.

A reader requested we re-run this piece, and this rainy weather is a perfect time to make these pear dumplings. If you have a favorite column you’d like to see again, let us know and we’ll do our best to grant your wish. Until then, happy baking.  – Doni

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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7 Responses

  1. Avatar Eleanor says:

    Doni, you are just the best!

    Everything and anything you write, I read. Whatever the subject, you make it right, good, fun, relevant!

    I got a lot o'pears in the house right now, good prices at the store, and ready to try this!

    You have never ceased to amaze me.

    Eleanor

  2. Avatar John Reit says:

    Doni: you should include recipe fpr carmel whiskey sauce. The Amaretto in the first stage of the pears sounds good. I never thought of using it as a flavor, will have to try it.

  3. Avatar KarenC says:

    Doni, off topic but still want to know! I loved your pieces about Grocery Outlet and now you mention Cash and Carry. Do you find G.O. and C. & C. have better prices than Winco, or do you just buy different things at these two places that Winco may not carry? I do not shop Winco but many tell me I am crazy not to, because the prices are so much better than where I now shop for groceries.

    Karen C

    • Avatar Lisa says:

      Karen – here's my two cents on Grocery Outlet – I Love That Store. They sell everthing from vitamins to organic items!! And their wine selection is excellent with amazing prices. The employees are absolutely sweet. And one of the fun things is their inventory is constantly changing – so you never know what cool thing you may run across.

      Winco is great on prices – but i really dont know the best time to go cause it seems to always be crowded. But it does give you a good bang for your buck.

      Lisa

  4. Avatar KarenC says:

    Lisa, I understand the best time to shop Winco is around 7 to 7:30 a.m.. My husband and I did go for the first time yesterday…early. Hardly anyone was there. I was suprised that everything on my list was available there except one item. I will not buy produce there or meats. I source my meat locally and either grow my veggies or go to the Farmer's Market. If I buy produce at the grocery store, I buy organic when possible. One thing I did not like about Winco is their marketing practice. They have products split on either end of the store…like cereal, cheeses. It is a huge store, and by the time we walked most of it, I was ready to get out of there.

  5. The Grocery Outlet is fabulous — it's a little like treasure hunting, because you never know what kind of goodies will turn up. I always stock up on cheese, olive oils, wine and sourdough bread (local bakery: From the Hearth) and English muffins. Beyond that, I browse and pick up all kinds of interesting goodies. And it's just the right size for a quick shopping trip. The checkers are always cheerful and helpful. Love that place.