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?
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.
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
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.